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Robert Zarate 
Henry Sokolski 

January 2009 

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ISBN 1-58487-370-1 




Henry Sokolski vii 

Acknowledgments xi 


Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter on Nuclear-Age Strategy 

Robert Zarate 1 

I. Analysis and Design of Strategic Policy 91 

Commentary: How He Worked 

Henry S. Rowen 93 

Theory and Opposed-Systems Design (1968) 

Albert Wohlstetter 123 

II. Nuclear Deterrence 165 

Commentary: On Nuclear Deterrence 

Alain C. Enthoven 167 

The Delicate Balance of Terror (1958) 

Albert Wohlstetter 177 

Excerpts on "Missile Gap" from General Comments on 
Senator Kennedy's National Security Speeches 
(circa 1960) 

Albert Wohlstetter 213 

On the Genesis of Nuclear Strategy: Letter to Michael 
Howard (1968) 

Albert Wohlstetter 217 


III. Nuclear Proliferation 255 

Commentary: Timely Warnings Still - The Wohlstetters 
and Nuclear Proliferation 

Henry Sokolski 257 

Nuclear Sharing: NATO and theN + 1 Country (1961) 

Albert Wohlstetter 268 

Spreading the Bomb without Quite Breaking the Rules 

Albert Wohlstetter 301 

The Buddha Smiles: U.S. Peaceful Aid 
and the Indian Bomb (1978) 

Roberta Wohlstetter 339 

Signals, Noise and Article IV (1979) 
Albert Wohlstetter, Gregory S. Jones 
and Roberta Wohlstetter 357 

Nuclear Triggers and Safety Catches, the "FSU" and the 
"FSRs" (1992) 

Albert Wohlstetter 374 

IV. Arms Race Myths vs. Strategic Competition's 
Reality 379 

Commentary: Arms Race Myths vs. 
Strategic Competition's Reality 

Richard Perle 381 

The Case for Strategic Force Defense (1969) 

Albert Wohlstetter 389 

Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back? (1976) 

Albert Wohlstetter 414 


On Arms Control: What We Should Look for 
in an Arms Agreement (1985) 

Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter 472 

Arm^s Control That Could Work (1985) 

Albert Wohlstetter and Brian G. Chow 501 

V. Towards Discriminate Deterrence 507 

Commentary: Towards Discriminate Deterrence 

Stephen J. Lukasik 509 

Strength, Interest and New Technologies (1968) 

Albert Wohlstetter 524 

How Much is Enough? How Mad is MAD? (1974) 

Albert Wohlstetter 551 

Bishops, Statesmen, and Other Strategists 
on the Bombing of Innocents (1983) 

Albert Wohlstetter 557 

Connecting the Elements of the Strategy: Excerpt from 
Discriminate Deterrence (1988) 

The Commission on Integrated Long 

Term Strategy 604 

RPM, or Revolutions by the Minute (1992) 

Albert Wohlstetter 613 

VI. Limiting and Managing New Risks 623 

Commentary: Strategy as a Profession in the Future 
Security Environment 

Andrew W. Marshall 625 

End of the Cold War? End of History and All War? 
Excerpt from an Outline for a Memoir (1989) 

Albert Wohlstetter 637 

The Fax Shall Make You Free (1990) 

Albert Wohlstetter 639 

The Bitter End: The Case for Re-Intervention in Iraq 

Albert Wohlstetter and Fred S. Hoffman 649 

What the West Must Do in Bosnia: An Open Letter 
to President Clinton (1993) 

Albert Wohlstetter and Margaret Thatcher 661 

Boris Yeltsin as Abraham Lincoln? (1995) 

Albert Wohlstetter 669 

About the Editors and Contributors 677 



Three years ago, I received a phone call and then a visit 
at my home from a University of Chicago graduate student 
eager to learn about Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter. Robert 
Zarate interviewed me for nearly 2 hours. It was clear from 
the questions that he asked me that his interest in the 
Wohlstetters' work was more than casual. 

After Robert's initial visit, he called me again several times 
to clarify and pursue additional questions. I recommended 
other experts who had worked with or studied under the 
Wohlstetters for him to interview. Harry Rowen, my former 
Defense Department boss, was one. Andrew Marshall, 
at the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, was another. 
Both had worked closely with Albert and Roberta at RAND. 
Later, Harry and I contacted Joan Wohlstetter, Albert and 
Roberta's daughter, and persuaded her to make her parents' 
private papers at the Hoover Institution's archives available 
to Robert. These papers are now open to the public, and 
some of them are included in this edited volume. Robert's 
visits to Washington multiplied as he interviewed more of 
Albert's former proteges, as well as his critics. 

In 2006, 1 asked Robert if he would be willing to help out 
at my nonprofit research organization, the Nonproliferation 
Policy Education Center (NPEC). He immediately agreed 
and assumed responsibility for completing research that 
had already been begun by Paul Lettow on the meaning 
of "nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" in the Nuclear 
Nonproliferation Treaty. Although Robert was planning 
to write a comprehensive biography of Albert Wohlstetter, 
I encouraged him instead to publish short pieces on the 
Wohlstetters. His success here led to the next suggestion: an 
edited volume of Albert and Roberta's key writings relating 
to nuclear proliferation and national security affairs, with 
commentaries by the Wohlstetters' colleagues and students. 
I worked with him to develop a grant proposal. 

The result is this volume, which is designed not as a 
eulogy or a Festschrift, but as a testament to the continuing 
relevance of the work of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter in 
the fields of nuclear and security policy analysis. Albert 
and Roberta wrote hundreds of articles and studies on U.S. 
policy on the Balkans, as well as the Persian Gulf; strategic 
command and control; intelligence and warning; NATO 
nuclear planning; U.S.-Russian arms control; strategic 
and theater missile defenses; the economics and military 
dangers of civilian nuclear energy; nuclear safeguards and 
nuclear nonproliferation; and military nuclear strategy and 
methods of policy analysis and design. Their contributions 
to and influence in these areas of policy were considerable. 
As a result, it simply is not possible to include in a single 
volume all of the studies and writings that one would need 
in order to cover the full extent of their work. 

Still, publishing selections of their most important writ- 
ings is worthwhile. Increased concern about the spread 
of nuclear weapons in the Far and Middle East, the con- 
troversy surrounding civilian nuclear cooperation with 
India, the global revival of nuclear power and debate over 
its economics and security implications, the controversies 
surrounding how the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's 
obligations and rights are being cynically read by Iran and 
other states — all of these issues have prompted Washington 
pundits and national security analysts to cite the Wohlstet- 
ters' work. The same can also be said of the security concerns 
recently raised by Islamic fundamentalism, the continued 
instability of the Balkans, the questions surrounding 
NATO's future and America's alliances in the Far East, the 
relevance of nuclear deterrence after the Cold War, and the 
emergence of ballistic missile defense as a key ingredient in 
strategic forces and alliance relations. 

This volume can hardly cover all the insights that the 
Wohlstetters' work might shed on these topics. Instead, it 
is designed to make some of the most significant of Albert 
and Roberta's writings — many of which were previously 
unpublished — much more accessible. Using this volume's 

references and its companion website, Albert Wohlstetter Dot 
Com {, readers will be able to view 
some of the most interesting of the Wohlstetters' archived 
analyses. Finally, Robert Zarate's introductory essay and 
the subsequent commentaries, which have been written 
by some of Albert and Roberta's closest colleagues and 
students, should help to introduce the Wohlstetters' works 
not only to current policymakers and security planners, but 
to students who may later assume these roles. 

Executive Director 



The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) 
began work on this, the 11th of its Strategic Studies Institute 
(SSI) edited volumes, early in 2007, when the Hoover 
Institution's Archives at Stanford, California, made portions 
of the Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter Papers first available. 
Many of this volume's key themes were influenced by 3 
years of research and interviews on the Wohlstetters that 
James Johnson and Robert Zarate had conducted beginning 
in 2003. 

Among those to whom thanks are due, Joan Wohlstet- 
ter— who made access to the Wohlstetter Papers possible 
and gave freely of her time, recollections and opinions — is 
clearly first and foremost. Also, heartfelt thanks are owed to 
Harry Rowen, Alain Enthoven, Richard Perle, Steve Lukasik 
and Andy Marshall, who contributed commentaries to this 
edited volume; to the many colleagues, students and critics 
of the Wohlstetters who offered comments and constructive 
criticism on the edited volume; to NPEC's Tamara Mitchell 
and NPEC alumnus Ali Naqvi, who provided invaluable 
day-to-day administrative assistance; and to Ms. Linda 
Bernard and the staff of the Hoover Institution's Archives, 
who care for the Wohlstetter Papers. 

Finally, without the help of the staff at SSI, especially the 
hard work of Ms. Marianne Cowling and Ms. Rita Rummel, 
and Ms. Kathleen Gildersleeve, of the Army War College 
Library, this book would not have been possible. 

Research Fellow 

Executive Director 




Robert Zarate 

Given the quality of what has been recently written about 
Albert James Wohlstetter (1913-1997) and Roberta Mary Morgan 
Wohlstetter (1912-2007), it would appear that these late strategists 
have exerted immeasurably more influence on the history of the 
nuclear age than on historians. Nonetheless, Albert and Roberta — 
for the sake of brevity, this essay shall sometimes refer to the 
Wohlstetters by their first names — emerged as two of America's 
most consequential, innovative, and controversial thinkers of 
strategy during the latter half of the last century. 

They were controversial, in no small part, because their 
subjects of inquiry — questions of strategy, foreign and defense 
policy, and morality in the nuclear age — often lent themselves to 
deep disagreement. However, by engaging these questions, their 
research aimed above all at rejecting fatalism, at refuting "the 
belief that the holocaust will be on us unless by some desperate 
act we achieve some improbable immediate drastic change 
in the world order. "^ In their view, such fatalism underpinned 
not only Utopian responses to the nuclear age's dangers (e.g., 
"One World or None" calls for total disarmament, dissolution of 
national sovereignty, and world government), but also Dystopian 
responses (e.g., preventive nuclear war). As Albert explained in 

We are in the dark about the future of science and tech- 
nology, still more about the long-term future of mili- 
tary and political developments in the world arena. We 
should be extremely skeptical, therefore, if sweeping 
predictions on any subject come tied to a prescription, 
an exhortation for urgent and sweeping action. We have 
all heard the apocalyptic pairs of alternatives: "Destroy 
the Russians or they'll destroy us"; or "Disarm or face 
world annihilation." These are counsels of desperation, 
fear of the dark. They abandon not only patience, but 

As a remedy to nuclear-age fatalism and apocalyptic thinking, 
the Wohlstetters sought to identify and, when needed, to invent 
and design prudent, pragmatic alternatives to limit and manage 
nuclear risks — for example, to decrease nuclear war's likelihood 
by finding ways of improving the U.S. nuclear deterrent's 
survivability, controllability, and therefore credibility in the face 
of changing dangers. Nevertheless, some viewed their research 
agenda very differently. "He believes in learning how to fight 
with nuclear weapons," Paul Warnke, President Carter's Arms 
Control and Disarmament Agency director, said bluntly (if not 
also reductively) of Albert's work on nuclear deterrence in 1987. 
He continued, "I've never met a general or an admiral who really 
agrees with that."^ 

Albert was also controversial because, in contrast to Roberta's 
decidedly more subdued yet nonetheless formidable approach 
to debate, he engaged in policy disputes, not in a partisan 
or ideological manner, but rather with an analytical tenacity 
and intellectual ferocity that gained many admirers as well 
as detractors. As the venerable military historian. Sir Michael 
Howard, would later recall of Albert's work on exposing arms 
race myths, "Wohlstetter tore to pieces the thesis of the arms 
control lobby, that the weapons policy of the Soviet Union was 
dictated simply by the perception of U.S. threat, rather than by 
their own very different agenda." But Sir Michael would hasten 
to add: "His exposure of muddled, if not wishful thinking, on this 
issue did a great deal of good, but in his pursuit of [intellectual] 
adversaries, Wohlstetter showed himself at his most Calvinistic: 
there was at times a distinct whiff of burning in the air."'' 

Yet that which made the Wohlstetters controversial also 
helped to make them innovative. They belonged to a small circle 
of policy-oriented researchers — a group that included Andrew 
W. Marshall, Herman Kahn, William W. Kaufmann and others — 
that established the intellectual foundations on which the field of 
strategic policy analysis now stands. In particular, Albert, Roberta, 
and their immediate colleagues forever transformed how those 
who would later work on national security issues would think 
and talk by introducing concepts like "signal-to-noise ratio" in 
intelligence collection and analysis; the operational distinction 
between "first-strike" and "second-strike" capability in nuclear 
deterrence; "Fail-Safe" operations for nuclear-armed bomber 
aircraft; and the basing of intercontinental ballistic missiles in 

"hardened" underground silos. "To abbreviate drastically, Albert 
Wohlstetter all but invented a distinctly military approach to 
the military problems, or prudently presumed problems, of the 
security and utility of nuclear forces," wrote Colin S. Gray, a 
former adviser to the Reagan Administration. "Wohlstetter' s work 
is on a plane of importance that is exceedingly thinly populated 
with convincing rivals."^ 

And what made the Wohlstetters controversial and innovative 
also helped to make them consequential. Although they never 
officially served as government policymakers during their careers 
in strategy, they were nevertheless able — through the clarity of 
their thinking, the rigor of their research, and the persistence of 
their personalities — to shape the views and aid the decisions of 
those in government both during and after the Cold War.* In turn, 
both Democratic and Republican Administrations recognized 
them for their many policy-relevant contributions. In February 
1965, Albert received the Medal of Distinguished Service from 
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, becoming the first ever 
non-Pentagon employee to receive the Department of Defense's 
(DoD) highest honor. In January 1977, he received that honor 
again, this time from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 
And in November 1985, both Albert and Roberta were awarded 
Medals of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President 
Ronald Reagan. As political scientist Richard Rosecrance, who 
served on the State Department's Policy Planning Council during 
the Johnson Administration, would write in 1991, "Probably no 
civilian strategic analyst has had more influence in the nuclear 
age than Albert Wohlstetter."^ 

Contemporary Controversies and Continuing Relevance. 

In the early years of the new century, there is renewed interest 
in the Wohlstetters. One reason why is that although Albert died 4 
years before Al Qaeda's September 11, 2001 (9/11), surprise attacks 
and America's subsequent struggle against violent extremism, 
several of his former students emerged as figures of consequence 
during the presidency of George W. Bush. (It is worth observing, 
though, that formal and informal students of the Wohlstetters 
have served as policymakers in every Administration since the 
start of President Kennedy's.) 

Paul Wolfowitz, whose dissertation committee Albert had 
chaired in the University of Chicago's political science department, 
served as Deputy Secretary of Defense during Bush's first term. 

and now chairs the Secretary of State's International Security 
Advisory Board. Richard Perle, whom Wohlstetter had informally 
mentored since Perle' s high school days, chaired from 2001 to 2003 
the Defense Policy Board, a high-level panel of outside advisers 
to the Pentagon. And Zalmay Khalilzad, who also earned his 
Ph.D. at the University of Chicago under Wohlstetter' s tutelage, 
served as the U.S. Ambassador to post-Ba'athist Iraq and, in his 
current capacity as America's envoy to the United Nations, is the 
highest-ranking Muslim in the Executive Branch. Broadly labeled 
by some as "neoconservatives," Wolfowitz, Perle, and Khalilzad 
would join Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin 
Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Director of 
Central Intelligence George Tenet, National Security Advisor 
Condoleezza Rice, and others in being associated with President 
Bush's controversial arguments for war against Ba'athist Iraq.* 

Another reason behind the renewed interest in the Wohlstetters 
is the growing awareness of how their Cold War and post-Cold 
War writings still speak to key challenges that America and its allies 
are facing in the 21st century. With respect to Roberta's works, 
one obvious example is Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), 
her Bancroft Prize-winning study of the failures of American 
intelligence and imagination that had preceded Imperial Japan's 
surprise attack on December 7, 1941 — a study that has found new 
relevance in the tragic wake of Al Qaeda's 9/11 surprise attacks. In 
her meticulous analysis of the events and decisions prior to Pearl 
Harbor, Roberta found that the United States had failed to foresee 
the attack "not for want of the relevant materials, but because of 
a plethora of irrelevant ones."' Decisionmakers and intelligence 
analysts — the latter of whom were, at the time, decentralized and 
dispersed among America's military services — all had failed to 
distinguish the small, faint signals warning of disaster in Hawaii 
from the larger, louder mass of background noise suggesting 
anything but. Only in retrospect did these warning signals become 
so obvious and so discernible. "Signals that are characterized 
today as absolutely unequivocal warnings of surprise air attack 
on Pearl Harbor become, on analysis in the context of December 
1941, not merely ambiguous but occasionally inconsistent with 
such an attack," she wrote. ^^ "Indeed, at the time there was a good 
deal of evidence available to support all the wrong interpretations 
of last-minute signals, and the interpretations appeared wrong 
only after the event. "^^ 

This perennial problem of intelligence collection and 
analysis — of identifying and pulling actionable warning signals 

from the vast morass of irrelevant background noise — has come to 
be known within intelligence circles as the "signals-to-noise ratio" 
problem or, more simply, "the Roberta Wohlstetter Problem. "^^ 
The U.S. intelligence failures that preceded the attacks of 9/11 
renewed public awareness of this problem, so it was therefore no 
surprise that Roberta's Pearl Harbor study was prominently cited 
by The 9/11 Commission Reports 

Another example of the Wohlstetters' continuing relevance 
is The Buddha Smiles: Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian 
Bomb (1976), Roberta's incisive study of how U.S. and Canadian 
civil nuclear assistance to India during the 1950s and 1960s had 
unwittingly furthered New Delhi's secret construction and 
ultimate detonation in May 1974 of a nuclear explosive device, 
sometimes referred to as India's "Smiling Buddha" bomb.^^ The 
Indians had obtained plutonium for their bomb by using a reactor 
that Canada had built for them to use (in the words of their 
bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement) "for peaceful purposes 
only," as well as heavy water to moderate the Canadian-origin 
reactor that the United States had given to them (according 
to the terms of their bilateral agreement) only "for peaceful 
purposes."^' Indian government officials subsequently explained 
away "Smiling Buddha" by claiming that the bomb's purpose 
had been "peaceful," and that their construction and detonation 
of this "peaceful" nuclear explosive device had therefore not 
violated their understanding of the respective terms of the Indo- 
American and Indo-Canadian nuclear cooperation agreements. 
To Roberta, this episode plainly illustrated the need for the 
Executive and Legislative Branches either to obtain unequivocal 
terms and bilateral understandings regarding not only what is 
prohibited in any agreement for nuclear cooperation, but also 
what consequences shall follow in the event of a violation — or 
else to decline an agreement altogether. Such insights from The 
Buddha Smiles are worth revisiting and taking seriously today, 
especially with Washington having concluded a new nuclear 
cooperation agreement with New Delhi that would carve out an 
exception in U.S. and international law in order to lift the decades- 
long prohibition against nuclear exports to India that arose after 
Smiling Buddha's detonation. 

In contrast to Roberta's works, many of Albert's writings 
have remained dispersed and often difficult for all but the most 
determined and resourceful to find. As a result, those interested 
in learning more about this late strategist— a group that includes 

not only government decisionmakers and policy analysts, but also 
journalists, scholars, and students — have not been able to read 
his works first-hand. Rather, they have had to turn to books and 
articles that offer second-hand (and, in some cases, even third- 
hand) accounts of his writings. Such accounts, however, have 
generally been incomplete, and sometimes have misunderstood 
or even consciously misrepresented Albert's arguments. 

In particular, when recent books and articles on "neocon- 
servativism" in the 21st century have discussed Albert (who never 
identified himself as a "neoconservative," nor was ever labeled one 
by the secondary literature before 2001 or 2002^''), the authors of 
these accounts typically have neither read carefully nor analyzed 
closely his works. Instead, they have tended merely to cite passages 
from his writings out of textual and historical context in larger 
efforts to lionize or demonize today's "neoconservatives." In turn, 
these books and articles, and those who read them, frequently are 
drawing distorted and ahistorical conclusions about Wohlstetter 
and his work. 

"Is it too much to ask," wrote Sir Michael Howard (a military 
historian who describes himself as a critic of Albert's), for someone 
"to bring together [the Wohlstetters'] widely scattered articles and 
publish them in a solid lasting form" as part of "the indispensable 
nucleus of a strategic studies library when all else has been swept 
away?"^^ The present volume aims to help answer that call by 
providing readers not only with first-hand access to some of 
Albert and Roberta's key published and previously unpublished 
writings on strategy, but also with a fuller understanding of their 
historical contributions and continuing relevance to U.S. national 
security policy. 

The remainder of this introductory essay offers the basis for 
such an understanding by examining six key themes in Albert's 
career in strategy, with attention to Roberta's impact on Albert's 
work and thought. These themes correspond with this edited 
volume's six chapters of selected Wohlstetter writings on nuclear- 
age strategy and policy. 


Albert Wohlstetter first entered the world of strategy in 1951, 
when at the age of 37 he began working at the RAND Corporation, 
a defense-oriented research organization based in Santa Monica, 
California. So new and so singular a place was RAND that the 

U.S. press would have to coin new terms — neologisms like think 
factory and the more familiar think tank— just to describe more 
succinctly, if not accurately, what this organization was.^* 

RAND — the name is a contraction of the phrase research and 
development— was very much a product of the political, economic, 
military, and technological "cold war" competition between 
the West and the Soviet Union that began as World War II was 
ending. Recognizing the crucial roles that science and technology 
had played in the Allied victory over the Axis, the U.S. Army Air 
Forces (USAAF) in October 1945 formed Project RAND, the think 
tank's institutional predecessor, as an experimental organization 
to retain wartime scientific and technological expertise. Written 
at a time when the American military services were struggling 
to comprehend how the atomic bomb might affect the future 
character of war and peace. Project RAND's mandate was 
framed to encompass "study and research on the broad subject of 
intercontinental warfare, other than surface, with the objective of 
recommending to the Army Air Forces preferred techniques and 
instrumentalities for this purpose."^' This broad mandate enabled 
a well-funded, cutting-edge, and extremely flexible research 
agenda that helped to attract some of America's brightest minds 
in economics, physics, engineering, mathematics, and the social 
sciences. Although RAND would gain institutional independence 
from the USAAF's successor, the U.S. Air Force (USAF), after 
incorporating itself as a private not-for-profit entity in 1948, the 
USAF would remain RAND's main client for many years to 

During the 1950s, Albert's research on America's nuclear 
forces would help to establish the RAND Corporation's reputation 
as the center of U.S. strategic thought. His own journey to RAND 
would be a circuitous one, however. Given his undergraduate 
and graduate education in mathematical logic, and his later work 
in manufacturing as well as prefabricated housing, it may seem 
perhaps incongruous — even surprising — that he would spend his 
remaining 46 years immersed in questions of nuclear-age strategy 
and morality. Yet Wohlstetter would import lessons and insights 
from earlier disparate experiences into his defense-oriented 
research at RAND, and thereby shape his own unique approach 
to the analysis and design of strategic policy. 

Road to RAND.21 

Born in New York City on December 19, 1913, Albert was 
the youngest of Philip and Nellie Friedman Wohlstetter's four 
children. Although Philip would die when Albert was 4, a close- 
knit and cultured extended family — and the efforts of Albert's 
eldest brother, who forsook university studies to work full-time — 
would help widowed Nellie to care for her children. ^^ 

Raised in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, 
Wohlstetter attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he 
showed an early and strong interest in mathematics, Latin, and 
modern dance. In 1930, as the Great Depression was descending 
upon America, 16-year-old Albert entered the City College of 
New York. As an undergraduate, he concentrated his studies 
on mathematical logic, and was particularly stimulated by the 
writings of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), a philosopher of 
science whom he would describe in later years as "probably the 
greatest American philosopher" and "a major influence" on his 
own work in nuclear-age strategy. ^^ On the side, Albert would 
participate in campus activities like the college's R.O.T.C.^* 

After graduating from City College, Wohlstetter earned a 
fellowship to Columbia Law School. There, he met a master's 
degree student in psychology (whom he would marry in 1939) 
named Roberta Mary Morgan, ^^ the daughter of Edmund Morris 
Morgan, Jr., a distinguished Harvard Law School professor who 
would later help to modernize the Uniform Code of Military 
Justice. Although Albert would leave law school after only a 
year, he would remain at Columbia to pursue a Ph.D., studying 
mathematical logic and the philosophy of science, and working 
with some of the era's great logicians, such as Columbia's Ernest 
Nagel and Harvard's Willard Van Orman Quine.^*" While in 
graduate school, Wohlstetter would take on odd jobs to help 
support himself, and would even work for a time as art historian 
Meyer Shapiro's assistant. 

After earning his M.A. in 1937, Albert received several 
fellowships to finish his doctorate — including one from the Social 
Science Research Council to introduce modern mathematical 
methods into economics, a prestigious fellowship that in turn 
enabled him to intern for a time at the National Bureau for 
Economic Research. However, when the United States entered 
World War II, he halted his studies to work initially for the 
War Production Board's planning committee as an economic 

consultant, and later for the Atlas Aircraft Products Company as 
a factory and quality control manager at a plant manufacturing 
power-generating equipment for Allied forces. 

After the war, Wohlstetter declined to complete his doctorate 
and instead moved with his wife, Roberta, to southern California. 
Except for a year spent in Washington, DC, where he served as 
the National Housing Administration's Director of Programs (his 
one and only official government position), Albert would spend 
the rest of the decade managing research and development at the 
General Panel Corporation of California. General Panel would 
attempt — but in the end fail — to help meet the postwar housing 
shortage by mass-producing the "Packaged House," a modular 
prefabricated housing system designed by emigre architects 
Walter Gropius and Konrad Wachsmann.^^ 

In February 1951, as General Panel was folding, Albert was 
already contemplating a change in career, and even considering a 
return not only to more academically oriented research, but also to 
the East Coast. However, Roberta — who had been working part- 
time in the RAND Corporation's social sciences division since late 
1948 while at the same time raising her and Albert's daughter, 
Joan— was intent on remaining on the West Coast. Toward that 
end, she set up a meeting for Albert with Charles Hitch, the head 
of the think tank's economic division. A Missouri-born Rhodes 
Scholar, Hitch had served in the Office of Strategic Services during 
World War II before coming to RAND. Upon meeting, the two 
immediately clicked, and Hitch hired Wohlstetter on at RAND as 
a part-time consultant. 

Wohlstetter's Approach: Key Features.^* 

During the 1950s, Albert would lead a series of highly 
classified studies at the RAND Corporation that revolutionized 
how the United States based and operated its strategic nuclear 
forces. These studies (which the next section of this essay examines 
in some detail) would also stand out as exemplary applications 
of his unique methodology, a collaborative and interdisciplinary 
approach to the analysis and design of strategic policy. (Although 
Albert would write only a handful essays on methodology, his 
most accessible work on this subject is probably "Theory and 
Opposed-Systems Design" (1968), a version of which is included 
in this edited volume.^') 

First, Albert's approach sought to identify, frame, and answer 
questions directly relevant to the decisions facing government 
policymakers. Such decisions encompassed not only choices 
among "means to accomplish ends that stand a good chance of 
being opposed by other governments," but also choices among 
the ends themselves.^" 

In Wohlstetter's view, the ends of government policy could 
run into opposition in a number of ways. Such opposition, of 
course, could take the form of a conflict of aims between or among 
several governments. "The ends of any government," he observed, 
"are multiple and only partially incompatible with those of 
other governments — even very hostile ones — and of course such 
conflicts may be resolved without fighting." However, he added: 
"A peaceful resolution may depend in part on the risks involved 
in combat. "^^ 

Such opposition could also take the form of a partial conflict 
of aims within one government. He elaborated: 

While we may talk about national purpose in the sin- 
gular, the first thing to observe about our aims is that 
we have many of them. They are connected; some de- 
pend on others; many conflict. Obviously two aims may 
conflict when each represents the interests of a different 
group. But even ends which the nation as a whole can be 
said to share oppose other accepted national ends.^^ 

Albert thus highlighted the crucial importance of including "a 
careful critique of constraints and objectives" in any analysis of 
strategic policy, with particular attention to the cost-effectiveness 
of availalble choices to meet these objectives. He explained, 

A government's ends cannot be accepted as the final de- 
liverances of authority or intuition. They are subject to 
revision as the result of an analysis that frequently dis- 
plays incompatibilities with other ends of that govern- 
ment, or that indicates means so costly that the game is 
not worth the candle. ^^ 

Second, Wohlstetter's analytical approach used theoretical 
models, empirically-driven research, and interdisciplinary 
collaboration to wade through the complexity and uncertainty 
surrounding these problems of policy, and arrive systematically 


at some partial order among preferences and choices of means 
and ends. 

Lessons from his pre-RAND experiences profoundly 
shaped this approach. On the one hand, Albert's education in 
mathematical logic and the philosophy of science had given 
him an appreciation of the uses — and the limits — of quantitative 
and qualitative theoretical models in capturing and explaining 
real-world interactions and phenomena. On the other hand, his 
professional experiences in wartime and peacetime manufacturing 
had taught him the importance of moving away from the abstract 
and grappling with the concrete. Indeed, he repeatedly stressed 
the critical importance in his analyses of "grubby, highly specific 
empirical work on technologies, operations, costs, and potential 
interactions among states, factors that are plainly relevant for 
decisions of the governments of these states — or for citizens 
evaluating these decisions."^* Drawing inspiration from the work 
of the philosopher of science Charles Sanders Peirce, Albert thus 
sought to use theoretical models and empirically-driven research 
in a heuristic manner: deductive theoretical models spurred 
further empirically-driven research, the findings of which helped 
inductively to refine and improve the deductive theoretical models, 
and so on, in a method of successive analytical approximation. 

In addition, Wohlstetter's professional experiences impressed 
upon him the need to collaborate with and draw upon the insights 
and creativity of experts in other relevant fields. Indeed, he 
expressed pride in how his approach "required the cooperation 
of several disciplines and, in particular, a kind of close working 
together of natural science and social science disciplines which 
remains very unusual, if it exists at all, in universities."^' 

Third, Albert's approach aimed not only to weigh and 
consider the received range of possible choices, but also to invent 
and design new alternatives. He explained: 

A central part of the inquiry must look at the current 
and impending state of the art and at feasible and useful 
changes. In the past two decades in which such inqui- 
ries have grown up, nuclear, electronic, propulsion, and 
transport technology have changed massively. The prob- 
lem is not just to predict such changes, however. Since 
this is a work of design, it must explore how — in the 
light of interdependencies with military, political, and 
economic events — the changes may usefully be bent.^*" 


Indeed, he would remark in later years that invention and design 
figured heavily in his most successful analyses of strategic 

Fourth, Wohlstetter stressed the importance of being 
explicit about the limits of one's analytical approach, including 
the uncertainties surrounding the study. Yet he also noted that 
certain kinds of uncertainty could be leveraged to make the 
inquiry, inferences, and conclusions of the analysis more robust 
and persuasive. He elaborated: 

In comparing alternative systems with one programmed, 
one cannot eliminate uncertainty, but one can assume 
that they will be resolved favorably from the standpoint 
of a dubious programmed system. One cannot avoid 
theoretical simplification, but one can design a model 
to favor the programmed or other losing systems and 
to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then if the com- 
parison shows that, even with all the favors bestowed 
by the model's assumption, the system programmed or 
otherwise likely to be chosen is vastly inferior to an alter- 
native, this offers substantial ground for choice. More- 
over, it should not be surprising that bureaucrats exhibit 
enough inertia to make such a fortiori analyses possible 
and very useful, as some opposed-systems analyses 
have been.^'' 

In sum, Wohlstetter saw his approach as applying, in an 
essentially Peircean manner, the method of scientific investigation 
to the analysis and design of strategic policy. Moreover, he would 
argue that his approach stood in stark contrast to the practices 
of certain distinguished scientists, who would premise their 
arguments regarding the proper direction of nuclear-age strategy 
and policy less on the method of scientific investigation and much 
more on appeals to their own scientific authority.^* 

That said, Wohlstetter emphasized that his particular ap- 
proach to analysis and design neither exhausted the possibilities, 
nor could substitute for a capacity for fruitful inquiry. "There are 
no methods certain of result in a complex field of research," he 
cautioned. "None is proof against a dim awareness of interesting 
problems or incompetence in formulating manageable and 
significant questions."^' 



At the RAND Corporation in the 1950s, Albert Wohlstetter 
would lead a series of highly classified studies on U.S. nuclear 
forces that would evince his unique approach to the analysis and 
design of strategic policy, and establish his reputation within 
government circles as one of America's premier strategists. 
However, it was not until after the January 1959 publication of 
"The Delicate Balance of Terror"*" in Foreign Affairs — an essay on 
the stringent conceptual and technical requirements for nuclear 
deterrence that military historian Marc Trachtenberg would 
later describe as "probably the single most important article in 
the history of American strategic thought"*^ — that Albert would 
be recognized as one of America's preeminent and controversial 
public intellectuals of defense. Together, Wohlstetter's RAND 
studies and the Foreign Affairs article would challenge what 
decisionmakers, military planners, and policy analysts had 
assumed about nuclear war and peace, and forever change how 
they would think and talk about nuclear strategy and operational 

The Base Study. 

In May 1951 Charles Hitch, the head of RAND's economics 
division, asked Wohlstetter whether he would be interested in 
researching a problem that the USAF had posed to the think tank: 
How should the USAF's Strategic Air Command (SAC) base itself 
overseas? Initially, Albert saw this as a run-of-the-mill logistics 
problem, but after thinking things through over a weekend, 
he began to appreciate better how SAC's basing choices for its 
force of medium-range, nuclear-armed, manned bombers raised 
interesting questions and could have important implications.*^ 
Wohlstetter thus accepted Hitch's invitation and began a research 
project that would later come to be known as the "Base Study. "*^ 

As the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, the political, economic, 
and military competition between the Western allies and the 
Soviet Union had intensified. Although Soviet intentions remained 
unclear, its behavior had appeared at times ominous. After World 
War II, Soviet-supported Communists had seized power in 
Poland and Czechoslovakia. In 1948, the Union of Soviet Socialist 
Republics (USSR) had blockaded West Berlin. In August 1949, the 
Soviets had exploded their first atomic bomb. In 1950, the USSR 
not only had signed a defense treaty with the People's Republic 


of China, but also had backed Kim II Sung's Stalinist regime after 
North Korea invaded South Korea and thereby set in motion the 
Korean War.''* 

Against this background, SAC's bombers, when armed with 
atomic gravity bombs, constituted at the time America's main 
military hedge against the prospect of "Central War"— that is, 
of a Soviet conventional military invasion of Western Europe, 
the nations of which lacked the political and military means to 
defend themselves. In time of war or crisis, SAC's programmed 
system of basing for 1956 to 1961 envisioned relocating the 
bombers from approximately 30 bases in the continental United 
States (CONUS) to roughly 70 overseas installations. Half of these 
installations would be large, expensive "primary bases" from 
which SAC's bombers would launch their offensive operations, 
and the other half, refueling bases, but in general, all of them 
would be geographically closer to the USSR than was CONUS. 
Moreover, this programmed basing system was viewed favorably 
by SAC, the USAF, and DoD, as well as by the Congress. Indeed, 
just for fiscal year 1952, the Congress had already appropriated 
$3.5 billion (roughly equivalent to as much as $30 billion in 2008 
dollars) to construct domestic and overseas bases in accordance 
with the programmed system.*^ 

With a team that would feature economists Fred Hoffman and 
Henry Rowen, and aeronautical engineer Robert Lutz, Wohlstetter 
set out to understand the relevant economic, operational, logistical, 
technological, political, and military contexts in which to compare 
SAC's programmed system of basing to possible alternatives. 
Working in interdisciplinary consultation with USAF airmen, 
as well as with engineers, physicists, economists, intelligence 
analysts, geographers, and other experts, the Wohlstetter team 
came to identify four critical factors for evaluating base selection: 
the distances of a given base (1) to predetermined targets in the 
USSR, (2) to favorable entry points into Soviet territory, (3) to 
supply sources in the CONUS, and (4) to Soviet offensive airbases. 
In turn, they examined how variations in these factors, when 
applied to the SAC bomber force planned for 1956 to 1961, would 
jointly affect: 

• the costs of extending the bomber force's round-trip 

• the Soviet military's employment of active defenses, as 
well as the number of SAC bombers which Soviet fighters 
could intercept and destroy; 


• the logistical and operational costs for SAC's bomber 
force; and, 

• the vulnerability of primary operating bases and bombers 
on the ground to attack by the Soviet's small but growing 
stockpile of atomic gravity bombs. 

Wohlstetter and company's Top Secret March 1953 staff 
report. The Selection of Strategic Air Bases (R-244-S), concluded that 
the preferred system of basing was one of a new — and much less 
expensive — design that would rely primarily on bases within the 
continental United States in both peace and war, and supplement 
that system mainly with austere overseas refueling bases and, to 
a lesser extent, aerial refueling.**" Although this alternative system 
was not optimal for all criteria, it was a clear, across-the-board 
improvement over the programmed system. When compared to 
alternatives, it excelled in extending the bomber force's round-trip 
radius more cheaply; enabling bombers to bypass Soviet defenses 
and interceptors and reach enemy targets more effectively; 
decreasing logistical and operational costs; and increasing the 
quality and time interval of tactical warning, as well as lowering 
the vulnerability of bases and bombers on the ground to attack by 
the Soviet Union's growing stockpile of aircraft-delivered atomic 

Many in DoD, the USAF, and SAC initially and even reflexively 
resisted R-244-S's conclusions. In response, Wohlstetter and 
colleagues embarked on a briefing campaign of several months 
to persuade policymakers and military planners of the validity 
of their findings. In April 1954, they completed the Base Study's 
Top Secret, 400-page final report. Selection and Use of Strategic Air 
Bases (R-266), which not only detailed their findings, but also 
recommended new measures and operations to increase tactical 
warning of Soviet attack, and to better protect bomber aircraft, 
nuclear weapons, and personnel within each base from the various 
effects of nuclear explosions.*^ By that time, however, Wohlstetter 
and company's campaign had already shown results. By late 
1953, the USAF had accepted R-244-S's main conclusion, and had 
begun plans to relocate SAC's primary bases to the continental 
United States and to implement other key recommendations.** In 
light of this success, the final text of R-266 was changed to describe 
SAC's originally programmed system of basing as the formerly 
programmed system. 


Although the Base Study had implications for nuclear 
deterrence's stability, it is important to recognize that the study 
itself did not initially set out to focus on that issue. Rather, the effect 
of sac's choices for basing and operations on the survivability, 
controllability, and credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent became 
evident only as the Wohlstetter team developed and refined their 
study. Their follow-on Vulnerability Study, however, would 
examine the issue of nuclear deterrence explicitly. 

The Vulnerability Study. 

In September 1953, around the time Wohlstetter and company 
embarked in earnest on their follow-on study, the military- 
technological context had already begun to change dramatically. 
Both the United States and the USSR were increasing their 
stockpiles of atomic bombs, starting to introduce long-range 
bombers and more indiscriminately destructive hydrogen bombs, 
and working to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) . 
Although Soviet ICBMs were likely to be extremely inaccurate, a 
February 1954 paper by Wohlstetter and Hoffman projected that 
if ICBMs were coupled with hydrogen bombs, then the hydrogen 
bomb's powerful blast effects and very large "lethal radius" could 
help to compensate for such inaccuracies, and enable even errant, 
imprecisely-delivered ICBMs to destroy intended military targets 
that were "soft" (e.g., airfields and aircraft, as well as unhardened 
buildings and structures) with ease and little warning.*' The 
Vulnerability Study thus would seek to understand how these 
and other technological changes would affect the stability of 

Prior to this study, U.S. military planners had assumed that if 
the Soviets were to attack, their nuclear strikes — in a continuation 
of World War II and Korean War strategic bombing doctrine — 
would be aimed at American economic and industrial targets, as 
well as cities, and would be so large and so direct as to generate 
considerable strategic and tactical warning. Even historian- 
strategist Bernard Brodie had shared this counter-city targeting 
assumption. In his essays in the edited volume. The Absolute 
Weapon (1946), he had called the urban city the "made-to-order 
target" for nuclear weapons, and concluded that "the ability to 
fight back after an atomic bomb attack will depend on the degree to 
which the armed forces have made themselves independent of the urban 
communities and their industries for supply and support." Brodie did 


not think that U.S. strategic nuclear forces would be the primary 
targets of nuclear weapons.'" 

Working again with Hoffman and Rowen, Wohlstetter 
examined not only these assumed "U.S.-preferred" Soviet methods 
of attack, but also other attack methods that he would later 
describe as lesser excluded cases. '^ In particular, he considered the 
possibility of Soviet preclusive /i'rsf strikes with nuclear weapons: 
that is, nuclear Pearl Harbor-style attacks in which small numbers 
of enemy forces would try to fly at low altitudes, circumnavigate 
America's radar-warning networks, and use nuclear weapons 
to attack, not industrial targets or cities, but rather U.S. strategic 
nuclear forces themselves — with the explicit aim of precluding 
any substantial American retaliation or second strikes. (Albert and 
his colleagues coined the now taken-for-granted terras, first strike 
and second strike.) 

In September 1956, the Wohlstetter team completed the 
Vulnerability Study's Top Secret staff report, titled Protecting U.S. 
Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s (R-290).'2R-290 found that, 
even given the then-current range of low-to-medium intelligence 
estimates of existing and future Soviet military capabilities, U.S. 
nuclear forces could be highly vulnerable to attacks, especially 
Soviet attempts at a preclusive nuclear first strike, because of four 
central weaknesses: 

1. inadequate strategic and tactical warning before Soviet 
bomber attacks, and almost no warning before Soviet ICBM 

2. painfully slow and uncoordinated responses to any warn- 
ing because SAC required hours — sometimes many days — to 
assemble flight crews, aircraft, and munitions for combat or 

3. ineffective active and passive defenses because forces, 
personnel, and command centers were too locally concentrated, 
and because facilities (e.g., existing aircraft shelters and depots 
storing nuclear arms) could not structurally resist even an errant 
atom bomb's blast effects, let alone a hydrogen bomb's; and, 

4. a degraded or negated "second-strike" capability because 
Soviet first strikes could destroy or disable many SAC bombers 
on the ground, could disrupt post-attack communications and 
retaliation coordination, and could easily level planned above- 
ground ICBM launchers. 


R-290's findings were startling and provocative, but Albert and 
colleagues were careful to attach explicit and crucial qualifications. 
They wrote: 

The attacks described here, and many others studied, 
clearly indicated the present vulnerability of our strike 
force. They do not, of course, imply that a Russian attack is 
imminent. Nor do we think it is. That is a matter of Soviet 
intention rather than Soviet capability, and such intent 
would be affected in the first instance by Soviet knowl- 
edge of our vulnerability and in the second place by the 
comparative gains and risks of alternatives to central 

Conventional wisdom in the United States held that by simply 
possessing nuclear weapons, a government necessarily acquired 
an ironclad deterrent. The Wohlstetter team took aim at the 
conventional wisdom by arguing that mere possession of what 
the historian-strategist Bernard Brodie had once famously called 
"the absolute weapon" was not sufficient. Their worry was that 
if the weaknesses of America's strategic nuclear forces remained 
unaddressed, and if the USSR perceived these vulnerabilities, 
then in a time of extreme crisis the Soviets might come to view an 
attempt at a preclusive first strike as a not wholly unreasonable 
risk. As they explained in R-290: 

Deterrence is hardly attained by simply creating some 
uncertainty in the enemy's attack plans, that is, by mak- 
ing it somewhat of a gamble. The question is, how much 
of a gamble? and what are his alternatives? On the basis 
of past experience, we would be taking a very large gam- 
ble if we assumed that under no circumstances would 
the enemy take risks. If this were so, the matter would be 
easy and, for us, substantially costless.^* 

In short, although a nuclear Pearl Harbor was far from inevitable, 
in a time of acute crisis U.S. carelessness and complacency could 
conceivably invite such an attack. 

However, Wohlstetter and company stressed that, in efforts 
to address these serious vulnerabilities, simply numerically 
increasing the size of U.S. strategic nuclear forces would provide 
neither an affordable nor an effective solution. "National defense 


programs do not now give adequate consideration to the problem 
of protecting the strategic force as distinct from the problem of 
force size,"^^ they argued. "The criterion for matching the Russians 
plane for plane, or exceeding them is, in the strict sense, irrelevant 
to the problem of deterrence."^* Rather, Albert and his compatriots 
maintained that the problem of establishing a deterrent that was 
survivable, controllable, and therefore more credible in the face of 
changing dangers required U.S. strategic nuclear forces to be not 
only capable of riding out and operating coherently after an actual 
preemptive attack against them; but also completely controllable 
in times of peace, crisis, and war — and especially in the face of 
ambiguous warning— so as to avoid unauthorized operations, 
accidents, and war by mistake. 

In turn, such controllability in the face of ambiguous warning 
required that strategic nuclear forces be able to cope with the 
operational dangers that attended /fl/se alarm, the belief that there 
is a nuclear attack underway when there actually is not, which 
could commit America to war accidentally; and false reassurance, 
the belief that there is not an imminent nuclear attack when there 
actually is, which could facilitate an enemy's preclusive first 

Wohlstetter and colleagues held that if U.S. strategic nuclear 
forces could meet these requirements for a survivable, controllable, 
and credible deterrent, then this would increase the likelihood 
that the Soviets would tend to view the choice of a preclusive 
first strike as the riskiest of alternatives even ;/ Moscow should 
somehow stumble into potentially calamitous circumstances.^^ 
To meet these ends, they identified over 50 operational measures 
to limit and manage the many risks facing U.S. strategic nuclear 
forces.^* In particular, they recommended that the United States 

• Extend the continental radar net's perimeter; relocate 
and disperse bases deep within it; and install a "bomb- 
alarm system" to warn immediately all SAC bases and 
America's Continental Air Defense forces of an enemy's 
nuclear warhead detonation anywhere within the basing 

• Establish better alert procedures; increase SAC's flight 
crew and aircraft readiness for evacuation or combat; 
and implement "Fail-Safe," a set of protective actions in 
which combat-ready SAC bombers would evacuate and 
disperse in response to ambiguous warning, fly along 


predetermined routes, and return to base after arriving at 
predesignated locations, unless given an explicit order to 
continue on and attack enemy targets. 

• Shelter personnel, bombers, fuel, and nuclear bombs 
in facilities more structurally resistant to atomic and 
hydrogen bomb blast effects; locally disperse and protect 
these facilities within bases to take better advantage of 
ICBM inaccuracies; and shield planned ICBM launchers in 
hardened underground silos to make active and passive 
defenses more effective. 

• Secure backup civilian and military airfields in the 
continental United States; and develop robust, survivable 
command, control, and communications systems to 
protect post-attack communication and coordination 
with surviving forces. 

Although the Vulnerability Study's findings ran into some initial 
institutional resistance within the U.S. Government, the earlier 
Base Study's successes made policymakers and military planners 
much less inclined to dismiss the Wohlstetter team's conclusions.^' 
Indeed, many of R-290's recommendations were eventually 
adopted — though some recommendations, such as Fail-Safe,'" 
took much longer than others for SAC, the USAF, and the Defense 
Department to accept and implement. 

Moreover, Wohlstetter and company's Vulnerability Study 
inspired or helped to inspire others to develop technological 
innovations that would later have dramatic, and even 
revolutionary, impact. To take one example, the conventional 
wisdom prior to R-290 was that structures could be designed 
to resist — at most — peak overpressures of 30 or 40 pounds per 
square inch (p.s.i.). Working with Paul Weidlinger, a Hungarian- 
born engineer whom Albert had met in the 1940s at the National 
Housing Administration, the Wohlstetter team disproved the 
conventional wisdom: Weidlinger designed an underground 
missile silo, the concrete and steel structure of which could 
resist peak overpressures of as much as 200 p.s.i. In addition, he 
showed that it was possible to design structures of even greater 
blast resistance." 

To take another example, in the late 1950s RAND political 
scientist Fred C. Ikle, psychiatrist Gerald Aronson, and statistician 
Albert Madansky developed the concept of what would later 
come to be known as Permissive Action Links (PALs), with the 
aim of preventing the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear 


weapons. In brief, PALs require not only the installation of coded 
safety locks on nuclear weapons and missiles, but also the positive 
assent of two people to carry out and execute sensitive nuclear 
operations.''^ PALs remain widely used by the United States to 
this day. 

Yet another important example is the work of a brilliant 
RAND engineer named Paul Baran. Wohlstetter's R-290 report 
had helped draw attention to the Defense Department's severe 
command, control, and communications weaknesses: for instance, 
in the 1950s SAC communicated using extremely vulnerable 
civil telephone lines that could be easily disrupted by a nuclear- 
armed adversary in time of war. To remedy this problem, Baran 
in the early 1960s came up with the concepts of "distributed 
networking" and "hot-potato routing" (the latter is commonly 
known today as "packet-switched networking"), with a view 
toward creating more robust, secure, and survivable systems for 
command, control, and communications. Baran's concepts would 
prove essential to later efforts by the Advanced Research Projects 
Agency and other organizations that would eventually lead to the 
creation of the Internet.'^ 

The Delicate Balance: Deterrence as a Matter of Comparing 
Alternative Risks. '"'' 

Drawing conceptual insights from his classified and 
empirically-driven RAND studies, Albert Wohlstetter published 
the article, "The Delicate Balance of Terror," in the January 1959 
issue of Foreign Affairs that publicly took aim at the conventional 
wisdom surrounding nuclear deterrence. His targets were 
twofold: (1) the widespread belief in what his article described 
as automatic deterrence, the view that an always-reliable deterrent 
is an inevitable consequence of a government's mere possession 
of nuclear weapons;*"' and (2) the belief in what was popularly 
known as minimum deterrence, a more sophisticated version of 
automatic deterrence conceding that nuclear forces require the 
capability to survive the sort of attack they are meant to deter, 
but maintaining that such capability is easily achieved with only 
a few technologically crude and indiscriminately destructive 
nuclear weapons.'* The article noted that these views were held 
by many members of America and Europe's foreign policy elite: 
"In England by Sir Winston Churchill, P. M. S. Blackett, Sir John 
Slessor, Admiral Buzzard, and many others; in France by such 
figures as Raymond Aron, General Gallois, and General Gazin; 


in this country by the titular heads of both parties, as well as 
almost all writers on military and foreign affairs, by both Henry 
Kissinger and his critic, James E. King, and by George Kennan, as 
well as Mr. [Dean] Acheson."*^ 

Wohlstetter countered that a survivable, controllable, and 
therefore credible deterrent against nuclear attack is neither 
automatically nor easily achieved. "[M]uch of the contemporary 
Western confidence on the ease of retaliation is achieved by 
ignoring the full range of sensible enemy plans," he wrote.'* 
Automatic deterrers had assumed nuclear attacks against the 
West that would target cities and civilians, not nuclear-armed 
military forces themselves; thus, their image of a nuclear attack 
was that of a nuclear-age extension of World War II strategic 
bombing campaigns or a repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not 
a nuclear Pearl Harbor. Minimum deterrers conceded that an 
opponent's nuclear attack might target strategic nuclear forces, 
but failed to appreciate how deeply-rooted systemic weaknesses 
and operational difficulties in the face of a preclusive nuclear first 
strike could severely complicate attempts at retaliation.''' 

The fundamental conceptual point of "The Delicate Balance" 
was that the credible deterrence of a preemptive nuclear attack 
hinges on the would-be attacker's comparison of alternative risks — 
that is, what specific circumstances a potential aggressor faces, 
what alternatives to attack it perceives, and how it compares 
the risks of attack to the risks of perceived alternatives in those 
circumstances. "The balance is not automatic," Wohlstetter 
explained. "It should be clear that it is not fruitful to talk about 
the likelihood of general war without specifying the range of 
alternatives that are pressing on the aggressor and the strategic 
postures of both the aggressor and the defender."''" His crucial 
insight was that, even despite the horrors of nuclear weapons, the 
prospect of catastrophic circumstances could make the seemingly 
sturdy nuclear-age "balance of terror" fragile, and thus make a 
normally unthinkable course of action (e.g., nuclear preemption) 
potentially thinkable. 

To increase the likelihood of adversaries always viewing 
a nuclear attack — in particular, a preclusive first strike — as the 
riskiest of choices requires a nuclear-armed government to acquire 
and communicate to would-be aggressors the acquisition of what 
Wohlstetter stringently defined as second-strike capability. Such 
capability demands much more than possession of nuclear arms. 
It also requires the establishment of a system of strategic nuclear 


forces — a system composed not only of nuclear warheads and 
delivery vehicles, but also of personnel; command, control, and 
communications; reconnaissance and radar warning; supporting 
physical and operational infrastructure; and active and passive 
defenses. This system would have to be capable of clearing the 
following six operational hurdles:^^ 

1. The system of strategic nuclear forces must operate safely 
and stably in peacetime and, in particular, overcome problems 
associated with false alarms, accidents, and unauthorized 

2. It must be able to survive and operate coherently after a 
preclusive first strike — that is, after a preemptive nuclear attack 
attempting to degrade, disable, or destroy it. 

3. It must be able clearly to identify the aggressor, and to 
receive orders to retaliate from the political leaders after an 

4. Delivery vehicles must be able to reach targets on the 
aggressor's territory. 

5. Delivery vehicles must be able to survive attempts to 
intercept them by the aggressor's active defense. 

6. And delivery vehicles must be able to deliver nuclear 
warheads with accuracy appropriate to the warhead's explosive 
yield in order to overwhelm the aggressor's passive defenses 
(e.g., structural hardening, geographical dispersal, and deep 
underground emplacement of facilities) and destroy intended 

Moreover, such second-strike capability needed to be maintained 
in relation to — and in competition with — the potential aggressor's 
own changing offensive and defensive military capabilities. 

Finally, Albert stressed that even if a government could 
credibly deter a preclusive nuclear first strike, that did not mean 
it could also therefore credibly deter limited nuclear or less-than- 
nuclear aggression in all circumstances. (Albert and Roberta's 
work on Cuba during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis would 
examine this issue further. ^^) In other words, a survivable, 
controllable, and credible deterrent against nuclear preemption 
could not substitute for a holistic approach to national security, 
including efforts to improve conventional non-nuclear military 

The essay's argument was controversial. "Wohlstetter puts 
much emphasis on the circumstances in which nuclear aggression 
would be, in his view, both rational and sane," wrote P. M. S. 


Blackett (whose views "The Delicate Balance" had criticized) in 
1962. "Wohlstetter's argument suggests to me that he has neither 
thought very deeply or imaginatively about the consequences of 
the nuclear war, nor has he ever imagined himself in the position 
of taking the action which he seems to think it sane for the Soviets 
to take."^^ 

However, Wohlstetter — who had derived his arguments 
from nearly a decade's worth of highly classified research on U.S. 
strategic nuclear forces at the RAND Corporation— worried about 
the extent to which government decisionmakers would always act 
in an objectively "sane" or "rational" manner. Drawing on his wife 
Roberta's work on Pearl Harbor, he came to view Imperial Japan's 
December 1941 surprise strike as highly instructive. On the one 
hand, Tokyo, when faced with the prospect of eventual but almost 
certain defeat, had reasoned that a daring surprise attack on what 
it had correctly perceived to be vulnerable American naval forces 
in Hawaii was the less risky choice. As Admiral Osami Nagano, 
Chief of Japan's Naval General Staff, had explained in 1941: 

The current relations between Japan and the United 
States might be compared to an illness in which a deci- 
sion was necessary on whether to perform an operation. 
Avoiding surgery would [threaten] a gradual wasting 
away of the patient. Great danger would attend the op- 
eration, but it could not be said that surgery offered no 
hope of saving the patient's life.^'' 

On the other hand, U.S. and allied leaders had tragically failed 
to appreciate the alternative risks that were pressing down on 
Japan and making arguably insane strategic gambles seem less- 
and-less unreasonable. In a footnote to "The Delicate Balance," 
Wohlstetter recalls how: 

... in an interview with the press on December 3, 1941, 
Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, Com- 
mander-in-Chief, Far East, for the British forces stated, 
"There are clear indications that Japan does not know 
which way to turn. Tojo is scratching his head." As Ja- 
pan did not have a definite policy to follow, irrevocably, 
step-by-step, said Sir Robert, "there is a reassuring state 
of uncertainty in Japan." ^^ 


Although Albert did not believe the Soviets were immi- 
nently bent on a nuclear Pearl Harbor, he could not exclude the 
possibility that, given the Cold War's vicissitudes, Moscow might 
someday blunder into a calamitous situation, and find itself 
contemplating a preemptive nuclear attack/* As he elaborated 
during a private high-level dinner seminar at the Council on 
Foreign Relations in March 1960: 

The point is that deterrence should not be viewed as an 
absolute. It is a matter of comparative risks. Under some 
circumstances an aggressor might be faced with several 
unpleasant alternatives, and we want to guarantee that 
the most unpleasant always appears to be the risk of 
making a direct attack on the United States. There are, 
moreover, many foreseeable contingencies which will 
put a great strain on the deterrent. For example, the Rus- 
sians may be faced with a catastrophic defeat in a pe- 
ripheral war. Or they may fear allied intervention and 
support for a revolt spreading in the satellites or in Rus- 
sia. Or, possibly, even more dangerous, we may have 
suffered some catastrophic defeat on the periphery, and 
they may doubt that we will accept such a loss.^^ 

Thus, in his view, a clear and evident second-strike capability 
would increase the likelihood that the USSR and other future 
nuclear-armed adversaries would view, under almost any and all 
circumstances, a preclusive first strike as the riskiest of available 

In Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), a Bancroft Prize- 
winning book which was published in the same year as the Cuban 
Missile Crisis, Roberta would describe major practical lessons that 
had emerged from her study of Imperial Japan's December 1941 
surprise attack: 

We cannot count on strategic warning. We might get 
it, and we might be able to take useful preparatory ac- 
tions that would be impossible without it. We certainly 
ought to plan to exploit such a possibility should it oc- 
cur. However, since we cannot rely on strategic warning, 
our defenses, if we are to have confidence in them, must 
be designed to function without it. If we accept the fact 
that the signal picture for impending attacks is almost 


sure to be ambiguous, we shall prearrange actions that 
are right and feasible in response to ambiguous signals, 
including signs of an attack that might be false. We must 
be capable of reacting repeatedly to false alarms without 
committing ourselves or the enemy to wage thermonu- 
clear war/* 

In an application of his wife's insights, Albert's work in nuclear 
deterrence had sought to identify the sort of posture, operations, 
and technologies that would enable America's strategic nuclear 
forces not only to function stably in peacetime, but also to ride out 
and survive a nuclear-armed adversary's attempt to preclusively 
degrade, disable, or destroy them — and by so doing, help the 
United States deter safely and credibly a nuclear-age Pearl Harbor- 
style attack against it. In "The Delicate Balance," however, he 
stressed that maintaining such capability in the face of changing 
nuclear dangers would not be easy. It would require "sustained 
intelligent effort, attainable only by continuing hard choice."^' 

In later years, some authors and journalists would erroneously 
associate Wohlstetter with "bomber gap" arguments, and even 
Senator John F. Kennedy's "missile gap" arguments. However, 
through outreach like General Comments on Senator Kennedy's 
National Security Speeches (circa 1960),*" a memorandum to JFK's 
presidential campaign, Wohlstetter would try to clarify how 
his work on nuclear deterrence had not only explicitly rejected 
"bomber gap" and "missile gap" claims, but also refuted 
arguments for brute numerical increases in U.S. nuclear weapons 
and delivery vehicles as a feasible, economic, or sensible way of 
preserving second-strike capability. 

"The Delicate Balance of Terror" would be the first of many 
Wohlstetter writings to publicly challenge developing doctrines 
of automatic and minimum deterrence, as well as policies derived 
from these doctrines. In the early 1960s, one such policy would 
be a contentious U.S. proposal to share nuclear weapons with 
America's allies in Europe. 


Albert Wohlstetter's pioneering research on nuclear deter- 
rence in the 1950s helped to establish his reputation as one of 
America's premier and most controversial strategists. In the 


following decades, his efforts to stem nuclear proliferation — 
efforts which drew insights directly from his RAND studies on 
the requirements for a survivable, controllable, and credible 
U.S. nuclear deterrent — would serve to enhance that reputation. 
During the early 1960s, he would work to debunk an American 
proposal for a so-called "nuclear sharing" arrangement with the 
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and to promote 
instead nonproliferation within NATO by convincing the United 
States to make stronger, clearer, and more believable its promise 
to protect Western European allies from any potential Soviet 
nuclear and non-nuclear military aggression. Moreover, in the late 
1960s and early 1970s, he and Roberta would conduct a sustained 
examination of civil nuclear energy's military potential, as well as 
of the degree to which national and international approaches to 
nonproliferation were effectively constraining such potential. The 
Wohlstetters' analyses would help not only to reframe nuclear 
nonproliferation debates going forward, but also to change U.S. 
nuclear energy and export policy. 

Alliance Commitments. 

After France's February 1960 test of an atomic bomb, U.S. 
policymakers faced again the same sorts of worries that Britain's 
October 1952 test had raised: How would the addition of a new 
nuclear-armed government affect relations within NATO, especially the 
cohesion among allies? Would other Western European governments 
move to acquire their independent nuclear arsenals? Such worries 
led some in the outgoing Eisenhower Administration to propose 
that Washington establish with Western Europe a nuclear- 
armed Multilateral Force (MLF), an expansive "nuclear sharing" 
arrangement in which not just the United States, but all NATO 
members themselves would multilaterally command and control 
naval vessels manned by multinational crews and armed with 
American-supplied nuclear Polaris sea-launched ballistic missiles 
(SLBMs).*^ The hope was that the proposed MLF would satisfy 
NATO members who were agitating for greater roles in Western 
Europe's nuclear defense, and thereby arrest the impulse for more 
governments to get nuclear weapons. The proposed MLF, it was 
hoped, would also strengthen the sinews of the alliance. 

Wohlstetter, however, opposed not only the acquisition of 
new nuclear arsenals by individual NATO governments, but 
also the Multilateral Force nuclear-sharing proposal itself. As an 


outside adviser to the Kennedy Administration, he would help 
to persuade key decisionmakers to reject both. In particular, he 
would serve as DoD's informal representative to the Committee 
on U.S. Political, Economic, and Military Policy in Europe, an 
advisory body chaired by former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, 
and charged by the Kennedy Administration to reexamine 
transatlantic relations between America and Western Europe. 
Albert would play a key role in helping Acheson to author draft 
policy guidance for the White House's National Security Council 
(NSC) that would aim to promote nuclear nonproliferation in 
Western Europe through increased political, economic, and 
military interdependence among the United States and its allies, as 
well as through improvements in NATO's conventional defense 
capabilities for resisting less-than-nuclear aggression.*^ This draft 
guidance would form the basis for the Kennedy NSC's National 
Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 40.*^ Wohlstetter's article 
"Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 Problem" — published in 
the April 1961 issue of Foreign Affairs (at roughly the same time 
NSAM 40 was approved) — provides insights into the sort of 
arguments he made to the Acheson Committee.** 

To justify the French force de frappe, proponents had made 
use of doctrines of automatic and minimum deterrence. For 
example. General Pierre Gallois, an adviser to French President 
Charles de Gaulle, had asserted in Strategic de I'age nucleaire (1960) 
that the destructiveness of nuclear weapons created uncertainty 
for potential aggressors that necessarily "increases the risk, 
counsels discretion, and consequently strengthens the strategy 
of dissuasion."*' At the time, Gallois believed that the spread 
of nuclear weapons to additional states would have a pacifying 
effect: "As atomic armament grows more widespread and other 
nations besides America and Great Britain gain possession of it, 
either in their own right or under a 'double check,' the notion of 
dissuasion will also become more common, each nation practicing 
it according to its means."** Gallois added: "It will not be long 
before we may have to give up war altogether."*^ 

In "Nuclear Sharing," however, Wohlstetter countered, first, 
that the independent nuclear arsenals of France — and of other 
allies that might follow the French example — would face, in times 
of acute crisis, severe difficulties in deterring safely and believably 
a Soviet preclusive nuclear first strike. Here, he was very much 
informed by his earlier RAND Corporation research on strategic 
nuclear forces, which had revealed how hard it could be for the 
United States to establish a survivable, controllable, and therefore 


credible second-strike capability in the face of changing dangers. 
In his view, the independent nuclear forces of American's allies 
would likely face an even harder time. 

Moreover, Albert was deeply critical of how France's raw 
desire for greater prestige had played a decisive role in its 
acquisition of a nuclear-armed /orce defrapfe. He believed that de 
Gaulle's decision would be a costly mistake with little real payoff. 
In "The Delicate Balance of Terror," he had argued that "[m]ere 
membership in the nuclear club might carry with it prestige, as the 
applicants and nominees expect, but it will be rather expensive 
and in time it will be clear that it does not necessarily confer any 
of the expected privileges enjoyed by the two charter members."** 
In "Nuclear Sharing," he elaborated this point: 

The burden of deterring a general war as distinct from 
limited wars is still likely to be on the United States and 
therefore, so far as our allies are concerned, on the al- 
liance. . . . The problem of deterring a major power re- 
quires a continuing effort because the requirements for 
deterrence will change with the counter-measures taken 
by the major power. Therefore, the costs can never be 
computed with certainty; one can be sure only that the 
initiation fee is merely a down payment on the expense 
of membership in the nuclear club.*' 

Second, Wohlstetter worried about the effects that the spread 
of independent nuclear arsenals or the Multilateral Force would 
have on the Western alliance's cohesion and decisiveness. On the 
one hand, independent arsenals not only were undermining the 
U.S. nuclear "umbrella" guarantee in behalf of Europe's security, 
but also were unraveling the interdependence between the United 
States and some of its allies. (France would leave NATO in the 
mid-1960s.) On the other hand, the proposed MLF would multiply 
and dangerously complicate the allied decisionmaking process: In 
the event of a nuclear attack against one or more NATO members, which 
governments would have the power to decide when to use the MLF's 
jointly-controlled nuclear weapons? Which governments, if any, would 
have the right to veto such use? Just the U.S.? All participating NATO 
members? What would the process for making decisions be? Simple 
majority? Consensus? The answers to these critical questions were 
far from clear. 


Moreover, Albert was concerned that both independent 
nuclear arsenals and the MLF would erode from within America's 
promise to protect Western Europe from nuclear and non-nuclear 
Soviet military aggression. He wrote: 

[0]ne of the most serious troubles with moves towards 
NATO or national nuclear strike forces is that they might 
weaken the American guarantee in the future. If either a 
national or a joint deterrent can really deter the Soviet 
Union, it is hard to justify an American commitment for 
this purpose. If European nuclear forces should pres- 
ent merely a facade of deterrence, they might convince 
the American Congress even if they do not convince the 

Third, and finally, Wohlstetter feared that the emergence 
of new independent nuclear arsenals or the Multilateral Force 
would set precedents encouraging ever more states, both allied 
and hostile, to acquire nuclear weapons. In his view, American 
policy needed to account not just for the "Nth" problem 
country — that is, the immediate would-be nuclear proliferator. It 
needed also to account for what he termed the "N+1 problem" — 
that is, the precedent for or against further proliferation which 
other governments would draw from U.S. policy toward the last 
prospective "Nth" nuclear power. 

Thus Wohlstetter argued that if the United States strengthened 
its commitment to defend NATO allies from all forms of nuclear 
and non-nuclear military aggression, then this would serve 
to reassure allies of their security and interdependence with 
America, and promote nuclear nonproliferation within Western 
Europe. To that end, he urged Washington to retain sole launch 
authority over U.S. nuclear weapons; to emphasize an American 
"umbrella" strategy in behalf of Europe to deter Soviet preclusive 
nuclear attacks against both the United States and individual 
NATO allies; and to work with NATO members to develop more 
believable conventional military options to meet limited-nuclear 
and less-than-nuclear provocations. He explained: 

The alliance is viable, because neither our allies nor the 
United States in the long run can survive without it. 
This is the reason for deliberately entangling our forces 
and their dependents in the lot of Europe. We identify 


our short-term fate with Europe's because we think our 
long-term fate cannot be extricated from theirs. ... In 
fact, the principal implication of my argument is that the 
much used notion of interdependence has to be taken 

Following Wohlstetter's arguments, the United States would 
work to reassure non-nuclear-armed NATO allies through 
increased American security commitments to Europe, and to 
convince them not to build independent nuclear strike forces. 
Consequently, Albert's arguments against proliferation within the 
Western alliance would earn considerable fame (and infamy) in 
Europe. In a 1962 memorandum to the Department of State, Henry 
Kissinger (who at the time was serving as an outside adviser to the 
Kennedy Administration) would report the response of French 
generals in Paris when he had questioned why they believed their 
small and unprotected force would be capable of retaliating after 
a Soviet first strike: "The generals replied that I seemed infected 
by the pernicious Wohlstetter doctrine."'^ 

Although Albert also had helped to convince the Kennedy 
Administration to bury the Multilateral Force for a time, the 
proposal would die a slow death. Indeed, the proposal would 
resurface periodically during the Johnson Administration, and 
at times severely encumber negotiations between the United 
States and the USSR within the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament 
Committee, the multilateral forum from which the Treaty on the 
Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Treaty or NPT) would later emerge.'^ 

Civil Nuclear Energy's Military Potential. 

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Albert split time 
between his professorship at the University of Chicago (a position 
which political scientist Hans Morgenthau had encouraged 
and helped him to get'*) and his work as an outside adviser to 
government, he and Roberta embarked on research to understand 
better civil nuclear energy's military potential and economic 
viability.'^ In late 1975, the Wohlstetters — along with their 
colleagues at Pan Heuristics, a consulting company that Albert 
and Roberta had helped to form — would complete the study 
Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd? for the U.S. Arms 
Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA).*" 


Styled as a "primer for policy," Moving Toward Life in a 
Nuclear Armed Crowd? was written during a time when the U.S. 
nuclear industry and many within government were aggressively 
pushing for the domestic use and foreign export of spent-fuel 
reprocessing and other plutonium-related nuclear fuel-making 
technologies. Building on Albert's earlier work on nuclear 
deterrence and nuclear nonproliferation, their study argued that 
the prevailing interpretation of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation 
of Nuclear Weapons was dangerously permissive, enabling and 
even encouraging non-nuclear-weapon states to claim legitimacy 
as they acquired nuclear fuel-making technologies, accumulated 
fissile material (principally high enriched uranium and separated 
plutonium), and came within months — or even days — of building 
nuclear explosive devices. Moreover, although the NPT requires 
non-nuclear -weapon signatories to allow the International Atomic 
Energy Agency (IAEA) to safeguard and inspect their nuclear 
materials involved in peaceful nuclear energy, the Wohlstetter 
team worried that IAEA safeguards would not be broad enough, 
intrusive enough, and transparent enough to provide timely 
warning of a military diversion — that is, to sound a clear and 
unambiguous alarm in the case of a state's misuse of civil nuclear 
energy for nuclear weapons or unknown purposes sufficiently 
early so that other governments could respond effectively before 
that state acquired a nuclear weapon. 

From this, Albert and company identified three main paths — 
besides the outright purchase, theft, or gift of weapons-usable 
nuclear material — by which would-be proliferators could obtain 
material for their first nuclear explosive device. First, nations 
outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty could pursue, 
covertly or overtly, military programs to get weapons-usable 
nuclear material. (As Roberta would detail in The Buddha Smiles: 
Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb, India did this by 
taking advantage of unwitting Canadian and American nuclear 
assistance.'^) Second, NPT signatories could cheat the treaty by 
concealing from the IAEA weapons-related nuclear activities and 
then withdrawing from the treaty after illegitimately obtaining 
fissile material. Third, NPT signatories could declare all civil 
nuclear activities with military potential to the IAEA, accumulate 
weapons-usable nuclear material in plain sight and with an air 
of legitimacy, and then later withdraw from the NPT to build 
nuclear weapons. 


This last path particularly disturbed the Wohlstetter team, for 
it raised the risks of what they dubbed a Damoclean overhang of 
non-nuclear-armed NPT states, for which: 

the critical time required to make a nuclear explosive 
has been diminishing and will continue to diminish 
without any necessary violation of clear, agreed rules — 
without any 'diversion' [of nuclear material declared for 
civil purposes] to secret military programs needed — 
and therefore without any prospect of being curbed by 
safeguards which have been elaborated for the purpose 
of verifying whether the mutually agreed rules have or 
have not been broken.'* 

In their view, the growth of such latent or virtual nuclear-weapon 
states posed the fundamental challenge to nuclear nonprolif eration. 
"The real problem of proliferation," they wrote, 

is not that there are numerous countries "champing at 
the bit" to get nuclear weapons, but rather that all the 
non-nuclear countries, without making any conscious 
decision to build nuclear weapons, are drifting upwards 
to higher categories of competence. This means that any 
transient incentive, in the ebb and flow of world poli- 
tics, which inclines a country to build nuclear weapons 
at some point in the future, will be just that much easier 
to act upon.'' 

That said, the Wohlstetters and their colleagues rejected 
fatalism regarding the spread of nuclear weapons. Such fatalism 
sometimes found expression in phrases like "nuclear proliferation 
is inevitable," a statement which mechanistically envisions the 
further spread of weapons-usable nuclear fuel-making and 
fissile materials, and appears to imply that little, if anything, can 
be done politically, economically, or otherwise even to slow, let 
alone reverse, the rate of this spread. "A fatalism which holds 
that nothing can be done today may be an unconscious cover for 
a desire to do nothing, to continue as before," they countered.^™ 
"While it is very likely that there will be some further spread, how 
much and how rapidly is not a matter of fate, but a subject for 
policy. "^"^ 


Indeed, the Wohlstetter team stressed that the world's 
movement toward a nuclear-armed crowd is not inevitable. 
"Although there is a real chance that many countries will take the 
additional step and acquire nuclear weapons, it is not certain," they 
argued. "There exist contradictory forces which may substantially 
moderate the rate of acquisition of nuclear weapons. "^"^ The steps 
by which nations decide to acquire nuclear weapons are "more 
complex than the exponential physical and biological steps which 
have suggested the standard metaphors of proliferation," they 
continued. "They are not automatic, but depend on a complex set 
of political, military, and economic conditions. "^"^ 

To balance better the aims of national security, nonprolifera- 
tion, and energy security policies, they put forward a number of 
prudent alternatives for limiting nuclear proliferation and man- 
aging its risks when it did occur. In particular, their study urged 
the United States: 

• to strengthen its security commitment to and inter- 
dependence with non-nuclear-armed allies, including 
those outside of the NATO alliance system, and assure 
them of their safety in the face of changing proliferation 
dangers so as to obviate any movement toward getting 
their own nuclear weapons; 

• to interpret the NPT less permissively and more 
pragmatically, using the extent to which the IAEA can 
effectively safeguard a given type of nuclear material or civil 
nuclear activity as a key metric for determining whether 
or not Article IV of the Treaty's "inalienable right" to 
"nuclear energy for peaceful purposes ... in conformity 
with Articles I and 11" actually protects the material/ 
activity in the first place;^"'' 

• to evaluate transparently the economic viability and 
military dangers of nuclear energy and nuclear fuel- 

• to limit government energy subsidies and loan guarantees 
not only to the nuclear industry, but also to other energy 
industries, so as to enable all energy alternatives — nuclear, 
fossil fuels, natural gas, cleaner coal, and renewables — to 
compete on a neutral, market-driven playing field; 

• to establish stringent domestic and international controls 
on the export and use of fissile material and fuel-making 
technologies; and 


• to work both with the IAEA and with other governments 
to revise and adequately fund the Agency's safeguards 
system so that it could have a better chance of providing 
timely warning of a state's close approach to nuclear 
weapons capability. 

With this and later studies/"^ Wohlstetter and colleagues 
worked with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's 
director Fred C. Ikle, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's 
Victor Gilinsky, and others, to forge a consensus in Washington 
regarding the dubious economic rationales for, and the military 
dangers of, hitherto encouraged weapons-relevant nuclear 
activities — in particular, the use and export of plutonium-based 
fuel and fuel-making technologies. 

Partial yet nontrivial changes to America's energy and export 
policies followed. In October 1976, President Ford decided to 
defer America's commercial use and export of plutonium-related 
fuel and fuel-making capabilities, and to call for an international 
moratorium on the export of plutonium reprocessing and uranium 
enrichment technologies.^"* (Ford's deferral decision effectively 
killed earlier proposals to export nuclear fuel-making technologies 
to the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran.^"^) 
In April 1977, President Carter made Ford's deferral indefinite.^"* 
And in 1978, the Congress passed the Nuclear 'Non-proliferation 
Act (P.L. 95-242), which among other things established stricter 
guidelines for U.S nuclear cooperation with and nuclear exports 
to other governments.^"' As Atomic Industrial Forum president 
Carl Walske — who, as the nuclear industry's chief representative, 
had vehemently opposed such changes to U.S. policy — would 
grudgingly concede: 

The most significant single event [in the current call for 
change], in my view, was the appearance in December 
1975 of Albert Wohlstetter's study for the U.S. Arms 
Control and Disarmament Agency entitled. Moving To- 
ward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd?'^'^° 

Significant revisions to international nonproliferation controls 
would not follow, however. Although nuclear proliferation would 
often take a backseat to the larger struggle between the West and 
the Soviet bloc, proliferation problems would come to dominate 
U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War's end, especially in the early 
years of the 21st century. 



In the late 1960s, as Albert Wohlstetter expanded the scope 
of his nonproliferation research, he also became increasingly 
involved in heated policy debates over whether the United States 
should qualitatively improve the capabilities of its strategic 
nuclear forces. 

Many proponents of arms control opposed qualitative 
improvements. They premised their arguments on automatic 
deterrence and minimum deterrence, doctrines holding that 
a government could easily and reliably deter a wide range of 
aggression against it merely by possessing a few technologically 
crude nuclear weapons which, in the event of an attack, would 
be used against an aggressor's cities and civilian populations. 
Moreover, arms controllers typically believed that worst-case 
analyses were leading the United States to pursue qualitative 
nuclear improvements that would go far bey ond a mere " minimum 
deterrent" nuclear posture. In their view, such innovations were 
activating an action-reaction dynamic that was forcing the USSR — 
which many arms controllers believed wanted only a "minimum 
deterrent" — to engage in a nuclear arms race with the United 
States, one that was spiraling out of control, exacerbating bilateral 
tensions, and increasing the likelihood of war. 

In contrast, Wohlstetter (along with other like-minded 
strategists) supported military-technological innovation. A 
longtime skeptic of automatic and minimum deterrence, he held 
that a government's mere possession of nuclear weapons did not 
guarantee a survivable, controllable, and credible deterrent against 
a nuclear first strike; rather, the requirements for a system of 
nuclear forces capable of providing such a deterrent were far more 
stringent. Moreover, he countered that an action-reaction dynamic 
was not inexorably governing strategic competition in general, 
nor Soviet nuclear-weapons development and procurement 
decisions in particular; and that qualitative improvements would 
not invariably lead to spiraling arms races and increased tension, 
let alone to a greater likelihood of war. Indeed, Albert believed 
that some technological innovations would tend to encourage 

These largely opposing views would clash publicly in 
1969, when the Senate deliberated over whether to approve the 


initial deployment of the Safeguard antiballistic missile (ABM) 
defense system.^" In the mid-1970s, the aftermath of the ABM 
debate would inspire Wohlstetter to study systematically the 
history of the U.S. and USSR's strategic competition in nuclear 
arms. That study's conclusions would lead him to criticize the 
arm controllers' claims of inevitable worst-casing, of immutable 
action-reaction dynamics, and of consequent spiraling arms races 
as muddled myths that were driving a Luddite approach to arms 
control. The Wohlstetters and their colleagues would articulate 
as a better alternative an approach to arms control derived from 
what they considered to be a more nuanced understanding of 
strategic competition. 

The 1969 ABM Debate. 

A revised version of the Johnson Administration's Sentinel 
ABM program, the Nixon Administration's Safeguard program 
envisioned using nuclear-tipped missile interceptors to defend 
U.S. land-based strategic forces as well as the nation's political and 
military leaders against attacks by Soviet nuclear-armed ICBMs 
and SLBMs. It also sought to protect population centers against 
either the accidental or unauthorized launch of an adversary's 
ICBM or SLBM, or a deliberate but numerically small missile attack 
by nascent nuclear-armed governments like the People's Republic 
of China. Safeguard was therefore called a "thin" ABM system 
because it was intended to defend mainly military and leadership 
targets and provide only limited protection to civilians — a sharp 
contrast to the more ambitious "thick" ABM systems that would 
try to defend most or all of America's civilian population from 
very large missile attacks. In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union had 
already begun developing the so-called A-35, a comparable "thin" 
ABM system using nuclear-tipped Galosh missile interceptors, 
with the aim of protecting political-military leaders in Moscow 
from attack. 

In the Senate, prominent Safeguard opponents included 
Stuart Symington (D-MO) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), as 
well as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair J. William 
Fulbright (D-AR). Outside anti-ABM experts included Jerome 
Wiesner and George Rathjens, both of the Massachusetts Institute 
of Technology; former State Department legal adviser Abram 
Chayes of Harvard Law School; and Wolfgang Panofsky of the 
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Some of these experts would 
form advocacy groups to assist the anti-ABM senators. 


Prominent Safeguard supporters included Senate Armed 
Services Committee chair John Stennis (D-MS) and Senate 
Subcommittee on National Security and International Operations 
chair Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA), as well as the Pentagon's 
Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Johnny Foster. 
Outside pro-ABM experts included Albert Wohlstetter, now a 
professor at the University of Chicago; former Secretary of State 
Dean Acheson; and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul 
Nitze. These three would join together to form the Committee 
to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy, a group that would 
seek to provide pro-ABM senators with analytic support. (Paul 
Wolfowitz and Peter Wilson, both of whom were at the time 
doctoral candidates at the University of Chicago, and Richard 
Perle, a graduate student at Princeton, would help to staff this 

During Senate hearings on the ABM, opponents raised 
three main objections. First, they asserted that anticipated Soviet 
strategic nuclear forces would not be capable of knocking out 
America's land-based second-strike capability, therefore obviating 
one of Safeguard's stated purposes. In particular, George Rathjens 
submitted to the Congress an analysis calculating that any 
attempts at a preclusive nuclear first strike by the Soviets would 
destroy, at the most, three-quarters of America's land-based 
Minuteman ICBMs.^^^ Moreover, Jerome Wiesner charged that 
ABM proponents were using worst-case scenarios to strengthen 
their argument. "We always underestimate our own capabilities 
and overestimate those of the other fellow," Wiesner later claimed 
in an essay on the ABM."^ 

Second, they argued that qualitative improvements — not only 
active defense systems like the ABM, but also efforts to develop 
multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) systems 
and to improve the delivery accuracy of ICBMs and other nuclear- 
armed delivery vehicles — would necessarily spark spiraling and 
therefore destabilizing arms races. To halt what they saw as the 
action-reaction dynamic governing the strategic competition 
between the United States and USSR, they called for arms control 
agreements that would quantitatively cap American and Soviet 
strategic nuclear forces, and prohibit qualitative improvements to 
military nuclear technologies. 

Third, anti-ABM experts claimed that the United States, at 
any rate, had cheaper and more effective ways than the ABM to 
protect its second-strike capability. For example, Rathjens held 
that a brute increase in the numbers of American ICBMs would 


be a better alternative than Safeguard. Senator Fulbright even 
suggested that a "launch-on-warning" nuclear posture would 
render the ABM unnecessary and provide what he described as 
"the greatest deterrence." The Senator explained: 

It would seem to me that assurance, the knowledge that 
these ICBMs, even part of them, would be released im- 
mediately without any fiddling around about it, even 
without asking the computer what to do, it would be the 
greatest deterrence in the world. ^^^ 

Indeed, as ABM opponent Ralph Lapp would reiterate in The New 
York Times: "As Senator Fulbright pointed out, empty holes [of the 
ICBMs that would be launched on warning of an attack] may be 
our most powerful deterrent weapon.""^ 

At an April 1969 hearing of the Senate Armed Services 
Committee, Wohlstetter issued a forceful rejoinder to these 
Safeguard opponents. First, he challenged claims that anticipated 
Soviet strategic nuclear forces would be wholly incapable of 
launching a nuclear first strike to preclude substantially an Ameri- 
can second strike by U.S. land-based ICBMs. In particular, 
Albert criticized Rathjens' analysis, charging that he had found sig- 
nificant methodological errors and distortions of intelligence esti- 
mates when he had tried to replicate Rathjens' calculations."* 

(After the hearing, Wohlstetter and Rathjens' increasingly 
acerbic exchanges would spill onto the opinion pages of The New 
York Times and other forums. In July 1971, a special committee 
appointed by the Operations Research Society of America's 
president would release a detailed peer review of the Wohlstetter- 
Rathjens debate. This peer review — the idea for which was 
adamantly opposed by Rathjens, Wiesner et al. — would come out 
in favor of Wohlstetter's analysis as well as of his criticisms of 
the anti-ABM opponents."^ In particular, the peer review would 
conclude that the analyses of the anti-ABM experts "were often 
inappropriate, misleading, or factually in error.""* The Society's 
findings would do little to quell Wohlstetter and Rathjens' 
increasingly bitter dispute, however.) 

Second, Wohlstetter countered claims that Safeguard would 
necessarily start a spiraling race in nuclear arms or arms spending. 
"Indeed, despite the stereotype," he said of the U.S. spending on 
nuclear arms during the 1960s, "there has been no quantitative 
arms race in the strategic offense and defense budget, no 'ever- 


accelerating increase/ nor, in fact, any long-term increase at all."^^' 
(As this essay details below, the Wohlstetters and their colleagues 
would conduct a study in the 1970s detailing this point.) 

Third, Albert argued that Safeguard would be a cheaper and 
less destabilizing way than brute numerical increases of America's 
nuclear arsenal to protect land-based U.S. second-strike capability 
against Soviet strategic nuclear forces — forces which were likely 
to add more accurate ICBMs with modest MIRVed warhead 
capability. He elaborated: 

There is an important difference between making quali- 
tative adjustments to technical change and expanding 
the number of vehicles or megatons or dollars spent. 
The difference has been ignored in a debate on ABM that 
seems at the same time impassioned and very abstract, 
quite removed from the concrete political, economic, 
and military realities of nuclear offense and defense and 
their actual history. ^^^ 

He continued: 

For example, one alternative to protecting Minuteman 
[land-based ICBMs] is to buy more Minutemen without 
protection. But adding new vehicles is costly and more 
destabilizing than an active defense of these hard points, 
since it increases the capacity to strike first. A one-sided 
self-denial of new technology can lead simply to mul- 
tiplying our missiles and budgets, or to a decrease in 
safety, or to both.^^^ 

Indeed, in the Base and Vulnerability Studies that Wohlstetter 
had led at the RAND Corporation during the 1950s, qualitative 
technological improvements had figured heavily in efforts to 
protect U.S. second-strike capability without having to resort 
to destabilizing quantitative increases in the nuclear arsenal. In 
particular, his research team had leveraged the breakthrough 
designs of a brilliant engineer named Paul Weidlinger to show that 
it was indeed possible to shelter and passively defend ICBMs and 
command-and-control facilities by building complex underground 
structures that were orders of magnitude more resistant to the 
blast effects of nuclear explosions than most engineers had ever 
thought possible. ^^^ In Albert's view, active defense programs like 


the ABM fell into a long line of useful and stabilizing qualitative 
improvements to the capabilities of U.S. strategic nuclear forces. 

On a related note, Wohlstetter was deeply critical of statements 
by Senator Fulbright and others promoting "launch-on-warning" 
as an actual operational policy. Albert found "launch-on-warning" 
to be deeply dangerous and politically irresponsible: 

The revival today, by several distinguished senators and 
some able physicists opposing ABM, of the suggestion 
that, rather than defend ICBM's, we should launch them 
at Russian cities simply on the basis of radar represents 
a long step backward. If we were willing to do this, we 
would dispense with silos or Poseidon submarines or any 
other mode of protecting our missiles. And we would 
increase the nightmare possibility of nuclear war by mis- 
take. ^^^ 

The fierce debate between the pro- and anti-ABM crowds 
would continue into the summer of '69. In August, the Senate 
would end up approving the initial deployment of Safeguard, with 
Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the deciding vote to break the 
Senate's 50-to-50 split. However, 3 years later, at the end of the first 
round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the Nixon 
Administration would conclude with the Soviets an agreement 
severely limiting deployments of ballistic missile defense. ^^* The 
ABM Treaty of May 1972 initially allowed the United States and 
USSR each to field two ABM sites, but was later modified in July 
1974 to allow each country only one site. 

The United States worked to finish its Safeguard site in North 
Dakota, but Congress voted to shut it down in late 1975."^ In 
contrast, the Soviets would continue to field the A-35 ABM system 
near Moscow that they had first begun installing in the early 1960s. 
(Today, the Russian Federation now fields the A-135, an updated 
version of the A-35 that relies on missile interceptors tipped with 
non-nuclear explosives, while at the same time opposing U.S. and 
European Union efforts to build a "thin" ABM system to defend 
against ballistic missile threats from Iran and other rogue states.) 

Strategic Nuclear Competition: Rivalry, But No Race. 

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, controversies over the 
wisdom of incorporating technological innovations in U.S. 
strategic nuclear forces intensified. One key issue was whether 


the United States should try to improve the accuracy with which 
nuclear-armed delivery vehicles could be delivered to their 
intended military targets, even if the purpose was to decrease the 
possibility of harm to civilian noncombatants. 

Echoing their earlier arguments against the ABM, advocates of 
arms control charged that such technological innovations would 
inevitably spark new arms races. They held that the United States, 
which was wrongly alarmed by worst-case analyses, was pursuing 
technological military innovations that, in turn, were activating 
the action-reaction dynamic that governs military competition, 
and inexorably leads to spiraling arms races characterized by 
increased defense spending, larger and more destructive nuclear 
arsenals, and a greater likelihood of war. Again, arms controllers 
called for new treaties that would limit qualitative technological 
improvements to strategic nuclear forces. 

It was in this context that Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, 
along with colleagues at their Pan Heuristics consulting company, 
set out to study the history of how the United States and USSR 
had competed in strategic nuclear arms. Their research aimed 
to determine the extent to which the American-Soviet strategic 
nuclear rivalry actually had conformed to the concept of a 
spiraling arms race. 

The Wohlstetters and their colleagues began by observing 
that arms control advocates often had not carefully and precisely 
defined what they meant by the concept, arms race. They found that 
while arms race resonated with powerful emotional and pejorative 
connotations, the term typically had only vague, and sometimes 
confusing, denotations. In "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" part 
one of his controversial two-part essay in Foreign Policy (1974), 
Albert expanded on this point: 

When we talk of "arms" are we referring to the total 
budget spent on strategic forces? The number of stra- 
tegic vehicles or launchers? The number of weapons? 
The total explosive energy that could be released by all 
the strategic weapons? The aggregate destructive area 
of these weapons? Or are we concerned with qualitative 
change — that is, alterations in unit performance charac- 
teristics — the speed of an aircraft or missile, its accuracy, 
the blast resistance of its silo, the concealability of its 
launch point, the scale and sharpness of optical photos 
or other sensing devices, the controllability of a weapon 


and its resistance to accidental or unauthorized use? 
When we talk of a "race" what do we imply about the 
rate at which the race is run, about the ostensible goal of 
the contest, about how the "race" is generated, about the 
nature of the interaction among strategic adversaries?^^* 

With the concept of arms races, arms controllers had sought 
to lay bare the action-reaction dynamic that underlay the strategic 
nuclear competition between the United States and USSR. Albert, 
however, was deeply skeptical of the notion behind this dynamic. 
He wrote: 

The very phrase "action-reaction" has an aura of me- 
chanical inevitability. Like Newton's Third Law: For 
Every Action There Is An Equal and Opposite Reaction. 
Only here, since the mechanism is explosive, it seems the 
law is supposed to read: For Every Action There Is An 
Opposing Greater-Than-Equal Reaction.^^'' 

Wohlstetter and company acknowledged the concept of spiraling 
arms races had correctly demonstrated that one government's 
military decisions may have a partial impact on the decisions of 
another. However, they believed that spiraling arms races grossly 
overstated the extent to which an action-reaction dynamic singly 
and inexorably drove how governments competed militarily. He 

To build a national defense is to recognize serious differ- 
ences, potentially incompatible goals of possible adver- 
saries. Military forces then are at least partially competi- 
tive: What one side does, whether to defend itself or to 
initiate attack or to threaten attack or response, may be 
at the partial expense of another side. (Weapons are not 
by nature altogether friendly.) This means in turn that 
some connection is only to be expected between what one 
side does and the kind and probable size of a potential 
opponent's force. 

Arms race doctrines plainly want to say much more than 
these simple truths. They suggest that the competition 
results from exaggerated fears and estimates of oppos- 
ing threats, and therefore is not merely, or even mainly. 


instrumental to the partially opposed objectives of each 
side. The competition takes on an explosive life of its 
own that may frustrate the objectives of both. Explosive 
in two senses: (a) it leads to "accelerating" (or "exponen- 
tial" or "spiraling" or "uncontrolled" or "unlimited" or 
"unbridled" or "infinite") increases in budgets and force 
sizes; (b) it leads inevitably to war, or at any rate makes 
war much more likely. ^^* 

Having attempted to make clearer the conceptual confusions 
surrounding spiraling arms racing, Wohlstetter and colleagues 
sought to see whether the history of the U.S.-USSR strategic nuclear 
competition up to that point in time actually had resembled such 
an arms race. Their study proceeded in three main parts. 

First, they reviewed available American intelligence forecasts 
to evaluate the extent to which, in fact, the United States had 
regularly overestimated Soviet strategic nuclear deployments with 
"worst-case" analyses, as arms race proponents had frequently 
charged. To begin with, they noted that while U.S. intelligence 
had overestimated the rapidity with which the USSR would 
deploy long-range ICBMs in the late 1950s, it had underestimated, 
at the same time, the number of deployed Soviet intermediate 
range and medium range ballistic missile (IR/MRBMs) launchers. 
Moreover, after carefully examining annual intelligence 
predictions and estimates submitted by the Secretary of Defense 
to the Congress between 1962 to 1972, Wohlstetter and company 
arrived at surprising and counterintuitive findings. Within this 
population of before-the-fact intelligence predictions and after- 
the-fact observed estimates of Soviet nuclear deployments, the 
U.S. had wnderestimated repeatedly and systematically over a 
10-year period how much the USSR would annually add to its 
strategic nuclear forces. ^^' 

Second, the Wohlstetter team looked carefully at the history 
of budgets for U.S. strategic nuclear forces to determine the rate 
at which spending on these forces had increased. Again, they 
arrived at startling and counterintuitive findings. U.S. annual 
spending on strategic offensive forces, in fact, had decreased from 
the mid-1950s until the early 1970s. In particular, spending in the 
1950s was more than four times spending in 1976 in terms of 
constant dollars, and the budget for U.S. strategic nuclear forces 
had declined in an almost exponential manner since 1961.^^" 


Third, Wohlstetter and colleagues examined whether 
qualitative improvements had actually led to more indiscriminate 
and destabilizing forces. They found that, even though both the 
United States and Soviets had pursued technological innovations 
during the 1960s, American trends pointed decidedly downward, 
not only for spending on U.S. strategic nuclear forces, but also 
for key qualitative indicators — for example, the stockpile's total 
explosive energy yield, the number of strategic offense and 
defense warheads, and the arsenal's equivalent megatonnage.^^^ 

Taken together, these findings sharply contradicted the 
sort of invariable enemy overestimation and worst-casing, the 
unchecked growth in strategic nuclear arms and spending, 
and the ever-increasing arsenal destructiveness that arms race 
theorists had claimed was occurring on the U.S. side. This led the 
Wohlstetter team to caution that arms racing did not provide an 
insightful model of how the U.S. and USSR actually had competed 
strategically in the nuclear age. Arms racing was, at best, an 
emotionally-charged but muddled and inaccurate metaphor. 

What disturbed the Wohlstetters perhaps most of all, 
however, was how many arms control proponents had used 
(and were still using) the concept of arms racing to advocate for a 
U.S. nuclear posture based on doctrines of automatic deterrence, 
minimum deterrence, or the then-emerging doctrine of mutual 
assured destruction (MAD): that is, for a nuclear posture which, 
in essence, would assure, in the event of any attack by nuclear- 
armed adversaries, that the United States would escalate to 
massive nuclear retaliation against cities and civilian populations. 
The underlying hope of many such arms control proponents 
was that if the United States and USSR kept numerically small, 
technologically crude, and explosively indiscriminate nuclear 
arsenals aimed only at civilian noncombatants, the sheer horror 
of this posture would not only make all forms of nuclear war 
less probable, but also make movement toward total nuclear 
disarmament — and perhaps toward the dissolution of national 
sovereignty, world government, and perpetual peace — more 

In contrast, Albert and Roberta fiercely opposed such 
"countervalue" doctrines of nuclear deterrence that targeted 
cities and civilian noncombatants instead of military forces. 
Although they deeply doubted the likelihood and verifiability of 
total nuclear disarmament, they saw themselves as sharing the 
arms controllers' goal of making nuclear war less likely. But they 
maintained that the arms control establishment's preferred nuclear 


posture — a "minimum deterrent" posture which priviledged a 
sort of indiscriminate destructiveness against civilians that U.S. 
decisionmakers might not be willing to carry out, even in the most 
extreme of circumstances — was unstable, immoral, and unlikely 
to deter plausible forms of aggression. In his article, "Racing 
Forward? Or Ambling Back?" (1976), Albert elaborated on this 

Perverse current dogmas center most of all on an at- 
tempt to stop or slow technologies of discrimination and 
control. However, the remarkable improvements in ac- 
curacy and control in prospect will permit non-nuclear 
weapons to replace nuclear ones in a wide range of con- 
tingencies. Moreover, such improvements will permit 
new forms of mobility for strategic forces, making it 
easier for deterrent forces to survive. More important, 
they will also increase the range of choice to include 
more discriminate, less brutal, less suicidal responses to 
attack — responses that are more believable. And only a 
politically believable response will deter. ^^^ 

In other words, the Wohlstetters held that credible deterrence 
need not rely on a choice between indiscriminate, massively 
destructive, and therefore implausible forms of nuclear retaliation, 
or no response at all. Rather, a principal aim of responsible 
nuclear-age strategic competition should be to increase the range 
of credible (and especially non-nuclear) responses available to 
decisionmakers, especially against limited-nuclear and less-than- 
nuclear aggression, and by so doing actually strengthen U.S. 
deterrence. Albert explained: 

Some technologies reduce the range of political choice; 
some increase it. If our concern about technology getting 
beyond political control is genuine rather than rhetori- 
cal, then we should actively encourage the development 
of techniques that increase the possibilities of political 
control. There will be a continuing need for the exercise 
of thought to make strategic forces secure and discrimi- 
natingly responsive to our aims, and to do this as eco- 
nomically as we can."^ 

Although the Wohlstetters were skeptical of many of the arms 
controllers' canonical dogmas, this did not mean that they saw 


arms control agreements as having no utility. Rather, they viewed 
such agreements as being useful within clear limits. "Agreements 
with adversaries can play a useful role, but they cannot replace 
national choice," Albert pointed out in "Racing Forward? Or 
Ambling Back?" But he added: "Neither the agreements nor 
the national choices are aided by the sort of hysteria implicit in 
theories of a strategic race always on the point of exploding.""* 

In the early 1980s, Albert and Roberta would draft an essay 
titled "On Arms Control: What We Should Look for in an Arms 
Agreement" which provides insight into what they viewed 
to be — and not to be — viable approaches for arms control 
agreements. (This previously unpublished essay is included in 
the present volume.) And in the mid-1980s, Albert and his Pan 
Heuristics colleague, Brian Chow, would coauthor a detailed 
technical proposal for an arms control agreement to establish self- 
defense zones in space. "^ (This volume also includes a condensed 
summary of this proposed agreement as published in the Wall 
Street Journal.) 

The Study's Aftermath. 

The Wohlstetters' study on the nature of the U.S. -USSR 
strategic competition exerted influence and elicited controversy 
in the mid-to-late 1970s. Most notably, their study would form 
part of the larger context for the so-called "Team B" experiment 
in competitive intelligence analysis. First suggested by members 
of the Ford Administration's Presidential Foreign Intelligence 
Advisory Board (PFIAB) in August 1975, this experiment was 
officially begun by Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George 
H. W. Bush and President Ford's National Security Advisor Brent 
Scowcroft in June 1976. 

A now-declassified December 1976 memorandum provides a 
summary of the "Team B" exercise from the White House's point 
of view."* The experiment would begin with two groups, an 
"A" team composed of members of the Intelligence Community 
that would prepare "the 1976 estimate of Soviet forces for 
intercontinental attack ... in accordance with established 
Community practices," and a "B" team composed of "experts 
inside or outside of government" that would prepare an alternate 
assessment."^ Both teams would be provided with the same 
body of intelligence information, and each would work to arrive 
at independent conclusions about three specific topics: namely. 


"[1] Soviet ICBM accuracy, [2] Soviet low altitude air defense 
capability, and [3] Soviet strategic policy objectives. "^^* Both 
teams would have access to each other's final products and be 
allowed to write comments on each other's assessments. Finally, 
the National Security Advisor, in consultation with the DCI and 
PFIAB, would review and critique the highly classified results. 

In December 1976, Team B completed its Top Secret final 
report. Intelligence Community Experiment in Competitive Analysis: 
Soviet Strategic Objectives: An Alternative View™ Two months 
earlier, however, information about the exercise had already 
been leaked to the Boston Globe and Washington Star. The resulting 
news stories had set off a politicized firestorm within Washington 
that prevented dispassionate public discussion of the intelligence 
experiment's pluses and minuses. Although the highest levels of 
the Ford Administration had authorized the Team B exercise, critics 
insistently viewed this experiment in competitive intelligence 
analysis as nothing more than a direct assault on the Nixon and 
Ford Administrations' policy of detente with the Soviet Union. 

Wohlstetter had declined an invitation to join Team B.^*" 
Nonetheless, a number of journalists and opinion-makers 
would mistakenly assert that he had worked on the intelligence 
experiment. In response to a January 4, 1977, op-ed by Joseph 
Kraft in the Washington Post, Albert wrote a letter to the editor to 
correct the record: "I had no part in the team that recently took 
an independent look at past and present national intelligence 
estimates. Nor have I seen their report."^*^ 

These controversies notwithstanding, Albert and Roberta's 
study on arms racing helped to reframe Washington's 
understanding of the U.S. -USSR strategic competition. Indeed, 
key government decisionmakers would publicly refute the 
"mirror-imaging" assessments of Soviet nuclear spending and 
procurement that had led some arms controllers to claim that 
while the USSR wanted only to field a "minimum deterrent," U.S. 
actions were activating an action-reaction dynamic that was forcing 
the Soviets to build more weapons and sparking an unnecessary 
nuclear arms race.^*^ On that point. President Carter's Secretary 
of Defense Harold Brown would famously observe before a joint 
meeting of the Senate and House budget committees in 1979: 
"Soviet spending has shown no response to U.S. restraint — when 
we build, they build; when we cut, they build. "^*^ 



In 1962, Thomas Schelling and Morton Halperin published 
(with research assistance from Donald Brennan) Strategy and Arms 
Control, a book that famously identified what they took to be the 
three core objectives of all arms control agreements: to reduce "[1] 
the likelihood of war, [2] its scope and violence if it occurs, and [3] 
the political and economic costs of being prepared for it."^*^ Albert 
and Roberta Wohlstetter saw themselves as sharing these very 
same goals, but they diverged from the conventional wisdom of 
most arms controllers in that they believed the United States (and 
the USSR) could often achieve these objectives more reliably and 
effectively by means of independent technological innovation. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, Albert would work to demonstrate 
the stabilizing potential of technological innovation. In particular, 
he would join a small circle of analysts who identified for U.S. 
decisionmakers new alternatives for responding to — and thus for 
deterring — a wide spectrum of possible enemy aggression without 
resorting to the sort of massive nuclear retaliation against cities 
and civilian populations prescribed by MAD and other doctrines 
of automatic and minimum deterrence. By promoting the 
development of technologies and systems that stressed precision, 
control, and information, Wohlstetter would help the United 
States to reject MAD-inspired threats against noncombatants, 
and instead to field a new generation of more discriminate and 
less destructive non-nuclear capabilities that, in turn, would 
substantially reduce America's reliance on nuclear weapons. 

Birth of MAD: A New Doctrine of Deterrence by Massive 

The doctrine of mutual assured destruction first emerged in 
the late 1960s. Like earlier doctrines of automatic and minimum 
deterrence, MAD held that a government could deter stably and 
reliably a wide range of nuclear and non-nuclear aggression 
simply by threatening to escalate any conflict with massive 
retaliatory attacks targeting the aggressor's cities and populations. 
Because MAD required a government to field only a "minimum 
deterrent" second-strike capability consisting of technologically 
crude and indiscriminately destructive nuclear weapons 
aimed at civilians, the doctrine counseled against technological 


innovation. The reason was that when two governments adopted 
"minimum deterrent" nuclear postures, MAD doctrine holds that 
the necessary outcome will be a stable, mutual deterrence. Arms 
controllers — especially arms race theorists who sought to limit 
qualitative technological improvements to America's strategic 
nuclear forces — thus gravitated toward MAD. 

In a curious twist, however, it was Donald Brennan, an arms 
controller at Herman Kahn's Hudson Institute, who first coined 
the phrase "mutual assured destruction" in the mid-to-late 1960s. 
Brennan meant MAD as a tongue-in-cheek way of mocking arms 
controllers who had advocated escalatory threats of massive 
nuclear retaliation as a means not only of deterring a wide range 
of nuclear and non-nuclear aggression, but also of achieving deep 
cuts in nuclear arms. Nonetheless, many such arms controllers 
ended up embracing the phrase and the concept. 

MAD alludes to a concept that was birthed during Secretary 
of Defense Robert McNamara's tenure. Upon arriving at the 
Pentagon, Secretary McNamara and his team of analysts — a group 
which included Charles Hitch, William W. Kaufmann, Alain 
Enthoven and other alumni of the RAND Corporation— set out 
to rein in what they saw as the budgetary excesses of the military 
services. To constrain military spending on nuclear weapons and 
delivery vehicles, they had introduced by late 1963 the metric 
of assured destruction capability. (Although assured destruction 
capability is traditionally referred to by the acronym AD, this 
essay shall refer to it as ADCAP.) Enthoven, a protege of Albert 
Wohlstetter who had served initially as McNamara's Deputy 
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis, explained 
the concept behind ADCAP in a 1977 essay: 

[T]he size and composition of our strategic retaliatory 
forces would be determined by the "assured destruction 
mission." Under this policy, we would buy amounts 
and kinds of forces sufficient to be sure, even under very 
pessimistic assumptions, that they could survive a de- 
liberate Soviet attack [aimed directly against them] well 
enough to strike back and destroy 20 to 25 percent of 
their population.^*^ 

With the ADCAP metric, the McNamara Pentagon had sought 
to provide an argument for limiting the procurement of second- 
strike nuclear forces among the military services. However, 
ADCAP was not meant to imply that, in time of war, the United 


States would actually target the Soviet civilian population with 
massive nuclear retaliation. In How Much is Enough? (1971), 
Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith underscored this point: 

The assured destruction test did not, of course, indicate 
how these forces would actually be used in a nuclear 
war. United States strategic offensive forces have been 
designed with the additional system characteristics — 
accuracy, endurance, and good command and control — 
needed to perform missions other than assured destruc- 
tion, such as limited and controlled retaliation.^*' 

Indeed, when President Kennedy entered into office in 1961, 
his Administration sought to break away from the Eisenhower 
Administration's "New Look," a declaratory nuclear policy that 
sought to deter a broad range of Soviet aggression (including 
even minor provocations in Western Europe) through threats 
to escalate any conflict to higher levels of violence with massive 
nuclear retaliation. Instead, the Kennedy Administration decided 
to stress a more proportional "flexible response" approach to 
defense, to that end renouncing "countervalue" or "countercity" 
targeting of civilians with nuclear weapons. During his 1962 State 
of the Union address, for instance. President Kennedy declared: 

. . . our strength may be tested at many levels. We intend 
to have at all times the capacity to resist non-nuclear or 
limited attacks — as a complement to our nuclear capac- 
ity, not as a substitute. We have rejected any all-or-noth- 
ing posture which would leave no choice but inglorious 
retreat or unlimited retaliation.^*^ 

Moreover, at a commencement speech before the University of 
Michigan on July 9, 1962, Secretary McNamara delivered his 
famous "Ann Arbor speech" in which he made public the U.S. 
Government's explicit renunciation of countervalue targeting: 

The U.S. has come to the conclusion that to the extent 
feasible, basic military strategy in a possible general nu- 
clear war should be approached in much the same way 
that more conventional military operations have been 
regarded in the past. That is to say, principal military 
objectives, in the event of a nuclear war stemming from 
a major attack on the Alliance, should be the destruction 
of military forces, not of his civilian population.^** 


In the mid-to-late 1960s, however, McNamara began issuing 
statements that consciously but less-than-accurately conflated 
assured destruction capability with U.S. targeting policy. Such 
conflation encouraged advocates of automatic/ minimum 
deterrence to construe AD CAP to be not merely a metric to cap 
the size and composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, but also to 
constitute actual declaratory policy regarding whom — namely, 
civilian noncombatants — the United States would target nuclear 
forces. Arms controller Donald Brennan referred to holders of 
such views as "MADvocates," and Wohlstetter would join him 
in denouncing their preferred MAD-inspired threats of massive 
nuclear retaliation as disproportionate, out of control, and not 
credible. Moreover, Albert's own work on promoting technologies 
of precision, control, and information would later help to create 
non-MAD response options to a broad range of potential nuclear 
and non-nuclear military provocations. 

The Long Range Research and Development Planning 

In the early-to-mid 1970s, Wohlstetter participated in a highly 
classified DoD study that would help to clarify the potentially 
revolutionary implications that new technologies could have 
for war and peace in the nuclear age. This study would not only 
help the United States over time to reject doctrines of automatic 
and minimum deterrence and MAD-inspired threats of massive 
nuclear retaliation, but also lay the seeds for America's own 
"revolution in military affairs." 

Initiated by Stephen J. Lukasik, director of the Pentagon's 
Advanced Research and Projects Agency (ARPA), and Fred 
Wikner, an informal representative of the Defense Nuclear Agency 
(DNA), this study was known as the Long Range Research and 
Development Planning Program or LRRDPP. Because Lukasik 
and Wikner had intended to keep the study initially low-key, they 
consciously chose a name for the study that would be clunky, and 
the acronym for which would not be easy to pronounce. 

The LRRDPP sought to examine military applications for 
emerging technologies: for example, new methods of autonomous- 
terminal homing to deliver munitions more precisely, planned 
global positioning system satellites, and anticipated improvements 
in micro-computing and information-processing. The goal 
was to lay out how America's military services could leverage 


these technologies to provide U.S. decisionmakers with new 
alternatives — that is, choices that would not rely on indiscriminate 
massive nuclear retaliation— for responding to limited-nuclear 
and less-than-nuclear aggression. 

To work on the study, Lukasik and Wikner brought together 
technologically innovative industrial contractors with Albert 
Wohlstetter, Joseph Braddock, Don Hicks, Dom Paolucci, Jack 
Rosengren, and other analysts who had strong knowledge of the 
subject of nuclear-age strategy and intimate familiarity with the 
military services. Lukasik — in the commentary that he contributes 
to the present edited volume — summarizes how the LRRDPP 
worked and some of Wohlstetter' s contributions: 

The program was organized into three panels supported 
by four industrial contractors to contribute expertise and 
advanced concepts in ground, air, and naval warfare, 
conventional and nuclear munitions, reconnaissance, 
command and control, and system integration. Albert 
chaired the strategic alternatives panel, Don Hicks the 
advanced technology panel, and Jack Rosengren the 
munitions panel. Senior-level executives from OSD 
[Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the Services 
participated in panel sessions. The team members were 
selected for their in-depth knowledge as well as their 
skill in working as a multidisciplinary group, combining 
history, strategy, technology, military operations, and 
systems. In addition to Albert's broad skills, his ability 
to synthesize the essence of a problem and its solution 
and to communicate it to senior executives and political 
leaders was invaluable. 

A number of factors motivated the LRRDPP. For one, both 
Wikner (who had served as General Creighton Abrams's scientific 
advisor at Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and helped to 
push into the field very early forms of precision-guided munitions) 
and Lukasik believed that future technological innovations 
could change the nature of strategy and warfare — just as the 
advent of nuclear weapons had. For another, contemporaneous 
Soviet writings on the concept of revolutions in military affairs 
(RMAs) — in particular. Colonel General Nikolai Andreevich 
Lomov's 1972 edited volume Scientific-Technical Progress and the 
Revolution in Military Affairs (A Soviet Viewy^° — had encouraged 
high-level strategic thinkers within the U.S. Government to 


challenge conventional thinking on the transformative potential 
of military innovation. 

In addition, the LRRDPP's summary report of February 
1975 would cite two additional crucial developments. The 
strategic nuclear forces of both the United States and the USSR 
had apparently acquired survivable, controllable, and therefore 
credible second-strike capability; and in part because of this, the 
Executive Branch had called for a reassessment of the World War 
Il-era "strategic bombing" metrics that were still being used to 
measure the effectiveness of nuclear and conventional strategic 
attacks — namely, "the number of targets destroyed" and "the 
percentage of the targets at risk that have been destroyed by the 
attack." 151 

Citing the potential feasibility of "weapons with near zero 
miss distance," theLRRDPP strategists proposed what Wohlstetter 
had termed the dual-criterion (or, alternatively, the dual-criteria) 
to replace the persisting World War Il-era targeting metrics. 
Under the dual-criterion, the U.S. military would aim: "(1) to 
achieve the desired damage expectancy on an intended target or 
target system with high confidence, while simultaneously (2) not 
damaging particular regions or population areas, again with high 
confidence. "15^ To meet the dual -criterion's much more stringent 
targeting requirements, the strategists identified promising 
weapon system concepts which, by capitalizing on foreseeable 
improvements in the accuracy of warhead delivery and other 
technologies, could accomplish their missions using extremely 
low -yield nuclear and even non-nuclear explosives. Such weapon- 
system concepts included remotely-piloted vehicles, precision- 
delivered ballistic missiles, deep-earth penetrators, shallow- 
earth penetrators, and advanced precision-guided munitions. ^^^ 
Improvements in a warhead's delivery accuracy can make greater 
reliance on non-nuclear explosives possible. When it comes to 
increasing the probability of destroying a hardened point target 
(e.g., a missile silo), a ten-fold improvement in the accuracy of a 
warhead's delivery vehicle is roughly equivalent to a thousand- 
fold increase in the warhead's indiscriminate explosive yield. 
This, in part, is why Wohlstetter saw revolutions in precision, 
control and information as potentially trumping the so-called 
nuclear revolution. 

The LRRDPP strategists then used a number of possible 
conflict scenarios — contingencies like less-than-nuclear Soviet 
aggression against non-NATO nations peripheral to the USSR, 
and Soviet attacks against individual NATO member states — to 


think through the sort of strategic contexts and operations in which 
the United States might use these technologically-driven military 
capabilities to deter and, if necessary, halt such aggression. In 
particular, they identified two strategies for employing these 

• Coercive response. A "declaratory or implied policy which 
threatened attack against limited numbers of selected 
targets in the USSR," the objective of which "would 
be to help initiate negotiations or to support ongoing 
negotiations involved with halting the war"; and 

• Stemming the aggression. A deterrent response policy which 
would use the military forces of "the threatened country, 
along with prompt assistance by U.S. forces, [for] actually 
halting the aggression. "^^^ 

To be sure, the LRRDPP strategists were aware of the positive 
and potentially negative implications of more precise, less 
destructive military capabilities. The summary report acknow- 
ledges that such capabilities could raise potential "politico-military 
issues," such as crisis stability, military escalation and the nuclear 
threshold, and the possibility of heightened arms competition. ^^^ 
The strategists cautioned: "The capability to destroy military 
targets with little collateral damage could be of high utility under 
some circumstances; but always, there is the other side of the coin, 
that the very existence of the capability may make conflict more 
probable. "^^^ 

Yet the LRRDPP strategists also saw the opportunities 
that military capabilities using non-nuclear technologies of 
discrimination, control, and information could afford by enabling 
America to rely substantially less on threats of massive nuclear 
retaliation, to respond decisively to provocations short of all-out 
nuclear war, and, by so doing, to deter such aggression all the 
more credibly. 

Revolutions in Technologies of Precision, Control, and 

The LRRDPP study profoundly influenced Wohlstetter's 
thinking. Long opposed to automatic deterrence, minimum 
deterrence, and other doctrines of massive nuclear retaliation, he 
had sought as early as the late 1950s to identify for decisionmakers 
new alternatives to meet limited-nuclear and less-than-nuclear 
forms of aggression. ^'^ Indeed, in a conference speech titled 


Strength, Interest, and New Technologies delivered in September 
1967 and sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Studies (now 
the International Institute for Strategic Studies), he had displayed 
remarkable prescience regarding the transformative potential of 
emerging technologies, suggesting that revolutions in precision, 
control, and information could very well trump the nuclear 
revolution and the fatalism that had flowed from it.^'* America's 
technological means had not yet caught up with Wohlstetter's 
strategic ends, however. ^^' The Long Range Research and 
Development Planning Program would help to change that. 

The education and expertise gained from Lukasik and Wik- 
ner's LRRDPP study would considerably inform Wohlstetter's 
own heated criticisms of MAD-inspired nuclear deterrence and 
targeting doctrines.^*" The LRRDPP experience would also shape 
the later work of President Reagan's Commission on Integrated 
Long-Term Strategy, a high-level panel that outgoing Under- 
secretary of Defense for Policy Fred C. Ikle and Wohlstetter chaired 
in the mid-to-late 1980s. (The other members of the Commission 
were Anne L. Armstrong, Zbigniew Brzezinski, William P. Clark, 
W. Graham Claytor, Jr., Andrew J. Goodpaster, James L. Holloway 
III, Samuel P. Huntington, Henry A. Kissinger, Joshua Lederberg, 
Bernard A. Schriever, and John W. Vessey.) With its final report, 
the Commission offered a new doctrine of discriminate deterrence 
to meet the future security environment's changing dangers, with 
the aim of increasing American and allied ability "to bring force 
to bear effectively, with discrimination and in time, to thwart 
any of a wide range of plausible aggressions against their major 
common interest — and in that way to deter such aggression."^*^ 

In the decades following the LRRDPP, the United States 
developed and acquired, though in stops and starts, many of 
the technologically-driven military capabilities that the study's 
strategists had identified. ^'^ In turn, these non-nuclear technologies 
of precision, control, and information— the development of 
which many arms controllers had fiercely opposed in the 1970s 
and 1980s on the grounds that they would spark spiraling 
arms races— would substantially reduce America's reliance on 
indiscriminately destructive nuclear weapons, and thereby help 
to make all-out nuclear war less likely. 


In the late 1980s, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 
the dramatic Soviet decline was leading some to foresee a pacific 
post-Cold War world. However, Albert Wohlstetter, now a Medal 


of Freedom-winning strategists*^ in his mid-70s, was already 
thinking about the next set of strategic challenges. "Does [the Cold 
War's potential end] mean there are no latent long term dangers 
demanding prudence?" he asked himself in the conclusion of a 
June 1989 outline for his memoir. "[T]he political and economic 
futures of the heavily armed Communist states and of the 
increasingly lethally armed Third World countries are, to say the 
least, rather cloudy," he observed apprehensively, adding: 

Even if, implausibly, the Second and Third Worlds 
change rapidly to the market economies of the First 
World, nice though this would be, we are likely to dis- 
cover once again that, contrary to Cobden and the Man- 
chester School, trade and investment — good things 
though they are — are not all that pacifying. Trading part- 
ners have found a good many reasons to go to war. We 
haven't seen the end of fanaticism, mortal national and 
racial rivalries, and expansionist ambitions. It is conceiv- 
able that all the variously sized lions and lambs will lie 
down together, that there will be the kind of moral revo- 
lution that many hoped for at the end of World War II 
when they thought it, in any case, the only alternative to 
nuclear destruction. But, as Jacob Viner [a University of 
Chicago economist] wrote at the time, "It is a long, long 
time between moral revolutions." We should not count 
on it.«* 

In the years following, Wohlstetter's apprehensions would prove 
well-founded as the end of the Cold War — a global competitive 
order that his work in strategy had helped in some ways to sustain 
and in other ways to end — gave way to growing international 

Seventeen months before the USSR's December 1991 dis- 
solution ended the Cold War, Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Iraqi 
military invaded Kuwait — producing a Persian Gulf conflict 
contingency that Wohlstetter and his colleagues had presciently 
warned of as early as 1980. ^^"^ In the early 1990s, Slobodan 
Milosevic's pan-Serbian ambitions ignited long-suppressed ethnic 
rivalries, and then genocide, in the Balkans. In the mid-1990s, 
deep racial rivalries would also lead to genocide in Rwanda. 
And in the late 1990s, after Osama bin Laden had issued a fatwa 
urging attacks on American citizens, his Al Qaeda organization 
carried out deadly bombings against U.S. embassies in Kenya and 


Tanzania — in retrospect, harbingers of the violent extremism and 
suicidal fanaticism that were yet to come. 

Moreover, the United States would discover just how lethally 
armed the former Third World and the Communist holdouts 
were becoming. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the American- 
led coalition uncovered a Ba'athist Iraqi nuclear program far 
closer to producing a nuclear weapon than either the Western 
intelligence services or the International Atomic Energy Agency 
(IAEA) had ever anticipated. And at mid-decade, after North 
Korea had refused to grant the IAEA access to suspected nuclear 
weapons-relevant facilities, Washington began long negotiations 
with Pyongyang for an "Agreed Framework," a "grand bargain" 
that sought to prevent the North Koreans from acquiring fissile 
material for a nuclear explosive device. 

Wohlstetter remained intellectually active during the 
post-Cold War period until his death in 1997. As a member of 
the Defense Policy Board, he supported U.S. efforts to liberate 
Kuwait from Ba'athist Iraq during the Gulf War. After the war, 
he lambasted Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton 
for what he saw as their failures to respond meaningfully to 
Ba'athist aggression against Iraqi Shi'a and Kurdish popula- 
tions, as well as to Saddam's other violations of the United Na- 
tions Security Council resolutions that had established the strin- 
gent conditions for the Gulf War's cessation.^** 

In the mid-1990s, Albert, now an octogenarian, focused much 
of his attention on the Balkans, publishing numerous op-eds 
(especially on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, edited 
by his long-time friend and colleague. Bob Bartley) and articles 
that sharply rebuked Western leaders for their indifference 
and indecisiveness towards Slobodan Milosevic's pan-Serbian 
expansionism, and agitated for greater Western involvement 
on behalf of Bosnian Muslims and other victims of Milosevic's 
aggression. ^''^ Of note, he and former British Prime Minister 
Margaret Thatcher coauthored "What the West Must Do in 
Bosnia/' an open letter to President Clinton published in the Wall 
Street Journal in September 1993, and signed by more than 100 
people from across the globe and the political spectrum — people 
like Morton Abramowitz, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Osama El Baz, 
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Zuhair Humadi, Marshal Freeman Harris, 
Pierre Hassner, Zalmay Khalilzad, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, 
Teddy Kollek, Laith Kubba, Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Nitze, Richard 
Perle, Karl Popper, Eugene Rostow, Henry Rowen, George 
Shultz, George Soros, Susan Sontag, Elie Wiesel, Leon Wieseltier, 


and Paul Wolfowitz.^''^ (The text of this letter is reprinted in this 

And in response to what he considered to be the shortcomings 
of the Agreed Framework between the United States and North 
Korea, Wohlstetter called on Washington to admit that the global 
spread of nuclear fuel-making is significantly driving the problem 
of proliferation and to face "squarely the challenge of persuading 
our major allies, not to say our potential adversaries [such as 
Pyongyang], to abandon the sale or use of plutonium fuel" and 
other weapons-usable nuclear materials.^*' 

Although Albert Wohlstetter died in Los Angeles on January 
13, 1997, and Roberta, in New York City on January 6, 2007, their 
work in strategy remains all too relevant and timely. 

In the early years of the 21st century, the United States and its 
allies are now struggling with many of the problems of nuclear- 
age policy that the Wohlstetters themselves had anticipated 
and grappled with throughout their long careers in strategy — 
problems like the dangers posed by the spread of nuclear bombs, 
fuel-making technologies, and fissile materials to new states 
and nonstate actors; the difficulties of enforcing ambiguously 
interpreted international law and nuclear nonproliferation 
rules; the uncertain economics surrounding energy security 
and alternatives for power production; and the proper role of 
deterrence and military force in an increasingly lethally-armed 
and disorderly world. Their writings on nuclear-age strategy and 
policy thus can help decisionmakers and policy analysts (as well 
as those who aspire to these positions) to clarify their thinking on 
these most urgent matters. 

When Albert spoke of his approach to the analysis and 
design of strategic policy, he often liked to describe it as "coming 
down at right angles to an orthodoxy. "^^^ Indeed, Wohlstetter's 
approach did not fit well the conventional dichotomy of hawk 
and dove. He was a strategist who had originally established his 
reputation for his path-breaking work on nuclear deterrence, a 
traditionally hawkish concept; yet he had added to that reputation 
not only by supporting nuclear nonproliferation, an often dovish 
concern, but also by consistently urging the U.S. Government to 
block the spread of nuclear weapons, weapons-relevant nuclear 
technologies, and weapons-usable nuclear material to America's 
allies and adversaries alike. He was a strategist who, like the doves, 
was horrified by the brute destructiveness of nuclear weapons 


and nuclear war, yet hawkishly saw U.S. innovation in military 
technologies of precision, control, and information as a way of 
markedly limiting the potential of weapons for indiscriminate 
killing, thereby strengthening deterrence and making nuclear war 
less likely in the first place. 

Indeed, when President Reagan awarded Medals of Freedom 
to the Wohlstetters in November 1985, he summarized their work 
in the following way: 

Albert has always argued that in the nuclear age tech- 
nological advances can, if properly understood and ap- 
plied, make things better; but his point, and Roberta's, 
has been a deeper one than that. He has shown us that 
we have to create choices and, then, exercise them. The 
Wohlstetters have created choices for our society where 
others saw none. They've taught us that there is an es- 
cape from fatalism. ^^^ 

In the 21st century, the writings of Albert and Roberta 
Wohlstetter on strategy can challenge today's and tomorrow's 
decisionmakers to "escape from fatalism," and come "down at 
right angles" to stagnant orthodoxies; to move beyond the sort 
of partisan dichotomies that have come to dominate and even 
cloud thinking on limiting and managing nuclear risks and to 
search for, discover, and even invent new policy choices that help 
America to avoid the nuclear age's worst dangers, and in Albert's 
own words, "slowly and piecemeal, [to] build a more orderly and 
safer world. "^^^ 

To these ends, this edited volume provides readers not 
only with the present essay on the Wohlstetters' key historical 
contributions, but also with many of Albert and Roberta's most 
enduring and relevant writings, some of which have never before 
been published. This volume's six chapters correlate directly 
with the six themes set forth in the present introductory essay — 
namely, (1) Analysis and Design of Strategic Policy, (2) Nuclear 
Deterrence, (3) Nuclear Proliferation, (4) Arms Race Myths 
vs. Strategic Competition's Reality, (5) Towards Discriminate 
Deterrence, and (6) Limiting and Managing New Risks. (However, 
the editors of this volume have remained mindful of James Digby 
and J. J. Martin's wise caveat that, given Albert and Roberta's 
"continuity of concepts across many diverse types of military 
problems," it therefore "may be inconsistent with the nature of 
[the Wohlstetters'] work to summarize their contributions in 


terms of discrete categories. "^^^) Moreover, each chapter begins 
with a short commentary by a former colleague or student of 
Albert and Roberta — Henry S. Rowen, Alain Enthoven, Henry 
Sokolski, Richard Perle, Stephen J. Lukasik, and Andrew W. 
Marshall, respectively — before offering the selected Wohlstetter 
writings themselves. 

To conclude, at least two larger themes emerge from a close 
reading and careful appreciation of the Wohlstetters' work in 
strategy. First, as a palliative to the fatalism that sometimes 
besets the nuclear age and gives rise to the extreme responses of 
the Utopian or the Dystopian, we must learn to tolerate the fact 
of uncertainty. Indeed, in the conclusion to her magisterial 1962 
study of one of America's worst military disasters, Roberta soberly 
observed, "If the study of Pearl Harbor has anything to offer for 
the future, it is this: We have to accept the fact of uncertainty and 
learn to live with it. No magic, in code or otherwise, will provide 
certainty. Our plans must work without it."^^'' 

Second, as the United States struggles not only to limit and 
manage the nuclear risks and changing dangers it faces in this 
new century, but also to "slowly and piecemeal, build a more 
orderly and safer world," we must weigh and consider carefully 
Albert's sober words on the need for facing up to hard choices 
and sustaining intelligent effort as expressed in No Highway to 
High Purpose (1960): 

The great issues of war and peace deserve to be treated 
candidly and objectively, without wishfulness or hys- 
teria. . . . [They] are tall orders. They cannot be filled 
quickly, or finally, or by means of some semiautomatic 
gadget, or in one heroic burst of energy. Nor will the 
answer come to us in a dream. . . . Our problem is more 
like staying thin after thirty — and training for some long 
steep, rocky climbs. If, as we are told, America is no lon- 
ger a youth, we may yet hope to exploit the advantages 
of maturity: strength, endurance, judgment, responsibil- 
ity, freedom from the extremes of optimism and pessi- 
mism—and steadiness of purpose. ^^^ 

ENDNOTES - Zarate 

1. Arthur Herzog, The War-Peace Establishment, New York: 
Harper & Row, 1965, p. 66. 


2. Albert Wohlstetter, "Technology, Prediction, and Disorder," 
Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, December 1963, pp. 11-12. 

3. Quoted in John J. Fialka's profile of Albert Wohlstetter, 
"Veteran 'Lone Ranger' Strategist Packs Firepower with Cold- 
Eyed Outlook on Soviet Nuclear Policy," Wall Street Journal, July 
15, 1987, p. 56. 

4. Michael Howard, "Brodie, Wohlstetter, and American 
Nuclear Strategy," Survival, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer 1992, p. 113. 
The military historian Sir Michael Howard (b. 1922) should not be 
confused with the British conservative politician Michael Howard 
(b. 1941). 

5. Colin S. Gray, "The Holistic Strategist," Global Affairs, Vol. 
7, No. 1, Winter 1992, pp. 174-175, 172-173. 

6. Although Albert did not serve in an official capacity in 
the U.S. Government, he served in many instances as an adviser. 
For example, he served in 1958 as deputy science adviser of the 
U.S. delegation to the Surprise Attack Conference in Geneva, 
Switzerland; during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he and Roberta 
served on the Quarantine Committee; in 1961 as the Department of 
Defense' s informal representative to the Kennedy Administration' s 
Committee on U.S. Political, Economic and Military Policy in 
Europe; from 1970 onward as a member of the Chief of Naval 
Operations Executive Panel; from 1985 to 1992 as a member of 
the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; and from 
1986 to 1992 as a member of the Defense Policy Board. In addition, 
Albert and Roberta helped to organize numerous seminars and 
forums within which senior policymakers, military planners, 
and strategists from the United States, Europe, and East Asia 
could meet and exchange views. These included: the California 
Seminar on Arms Control and Foreign Policy (also known as 
California Seminar on International Security and Foreign Policy), 
formed with assistance from James F. Digby; the European- 
American Workshop (later the European American Institute for 
Security Research or EAI), which they formed and perpetuated 
with the help of Digby, Uwe Nerlich of West Germany, Pierre 
Hassner of France, and many others; the Security Conference on 
Asia and Pacific (SECAP), formed with the assistance of Kiichi 


Saeki of Japan; and the New Alternatives Workshop, which built 
upon themes first examined by the Long Range Research and 
Development Planning Program (LRRDPP), which section V of 
this introduction discusses. 

7. Richard Rosecrance, "Albert Wohlstetter," in John Baylis 
and John Garnett, eds., Makers of Nuclear Strategy, London, UK: 
Pinter Publishers, 1991, p. 57. 

8. Some authors and journalists have erroneously claimed 
that when Ahmed Chalabi attended the University of Chicago, 
he had studied under Albert Wohlstetter in the political science 
department. According to University records, Chalabi, who had 
pursued a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, 
never took any courses from Wohlstetter. See "Letters: Department 
of Corrections," The University of Chicago Magazine, Vol. 95, 
No. 6, August 2003, available from 
issue/letters. shtml; and "Letters: Department of Corrections," 
The University of Chicago Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 6, August 2003, 
available from 
Indeed, Wohlstetter and Chalabi apparently did not first meet 
until the early 1990s, around the time of the Persian Gulf War, 
long after both had left the University of Chicago. 

9. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962, p. 387. 

10. Ibid., pp. 387-388. 

11. Ibid., p. 392. 

12. For example, see "This is the Tempest Long Foretold, 
editorial. The Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2001, p. 19. 

13. See The 9/11 Commission Report, final report of the 
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United 
States, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 
22, 2004, esp. p. 339, available from 
html. See also James Johnson and Robert Zarate, "Slow Pearl 
Harbors: Some Foreign Policy Disasters are a Long Time in the 
Making," The Weekly Standard, Vol. 11, No. 14, December 19, 
2005, pp. 14-15, available from 
PuUic/Articles/000/000/006/476fjivi.asp; and Zarate, "First Lady of 


Intelligence: Roberta Wohlstetter, 1912-2007," The Weekly Standard, 
Vol. 12, No. 18, January 22, 2007, pp. 16-17, available from ivivw. 

14. Roberta Wohlstetter, The Buddha Smiles: Absent-Minded 
Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb, PH-78-04-370-23, final report 
prepared for the U.S. Energy Research and Development 
Administration in partial fulfillment of E (49-l)-3747, Los Angeles, 
CA: Pan Heuristics, November 15, 1976, revised November 
1977, available from 
BuddhaSmiles-Revised.pdf, courtesy Joan Wohlstetter. See also 
Roberta Wohlstetter, India's Nuclear Energy Program and U.S. 
Policies Today, final report prepared for the Defense Nuclear 
Agency, in partial fulfillment of DNA-79-C-0067, Marina del Rey, 
CA: Pan Heuristics, revised February 1980, courtesy Gregory S. 

15. Agreement on the Canada-India Colombo Plan Atomic Reactor 
Project, New Delhi, India, April 28, 1956, available from www.nci. 
org/06nci/04/Canada-India%20CIRUS%20agreement.htm; and U.S.- 
India CIRUS Agreement, March 16, 1956, available from www.nci. 
org/06nci/04/US-India % 20CIRUS % 20 agreement. htm. 

16. It is worth observing that, prior to 2002 or 2003, no major 
book on neoconservativism had identified Albert Wohlstetter 
as a "neoconservative": e.g., Peter Steinfels, Neoconservatives: 
The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics, New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1979; John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservativism: 
Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994, New Haven, CT: Yale 
University Press, 1995; Mark Gerson, The Neoconservative Vision: 
From the Cold War to the Culture Wars, Lanham, MD: Madison 
Books, 1996; and Shadia Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right, 
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. Nor had any major essay or 
news article on neoconservativism identified Wohlstetter as a 
"neoconservative": e.g., Joshua Epstein, "The New Conservatives: 
Intellectuals in Retreat," Dissent, Vol. 20, No. 2, Spring 1973, 
pp. 151-162; Michael Harrington, "The Welfare State and Its 
Neoconservative Critics," Dissent, Vol. 20, No. 4, Fall 1973, pp. 
435-454; Bernard Weinraub, "Reagan's Brain Trust: Font of Varied 
Ideas," The New York Times, December 1, 1980; Bernard Weinraub, 
"Neoconservatives Today, They Explain All Their Yesterdays," 


The New York Times, December 28, 1980; David Shribman, 
"Neoconservatives and Reagan: Uneasy Coalition," The New York 
Times, September 28, 1981; David Shribman, "Group Goes From 
Exile to Influence," The New York Times, November 23, 1981; and 
Brent Staples, "Undemocratic Vistas: The Sinister Vogue of Leo 
Strauss," The New York Times, November 28, 1994. 

17. Howard, "Brodie, Wohlstetter, and American Nuclear 
Strategy," p. 108. 

18. See C. L. Sulzberger, "A New Kind of Policy Adviser," The 
New York Times, April 25, 1955, p. 22; "Valuable Batch of Brains: 
An Odd Little Company Called RAND Plays Big Role in U.S. 
Defense," Life, Vol. 46, No. 19, May 11, 1959, pp. 101-107; and Sol 
Stern, "Who Thinks in a Think Tank," The New York Times, April 
16, 1967, pp. 28, 110-111, 117-120. 

19. Quoted by Bruce Smith, The RAND Corporation: Case Study 
of a Non-Profit Research Organization, Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
University Press, 1966, p. 47. 

20. For more on the RAND Corporation's history, see Smith, 
The RAND Corporation, and Andrew May, Strategic Thought at 
RAND, unpublished draft manuscript, 2003. Dr. May's manuscript 
is based on his 1998 dissertation. 

21. In this discussion of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter's lives 
before RAND, I draw from research and interviews that Chicago- 
based independent historian James Johnson and I had conducted, 
as well as from the following transcripts of interviews with Albert 
Wohlstetter: James F. Digby and Joan Goldhamer, An Interview 
with Albert Wohlstetter: The Development of Strategic Thinking at 
RAND, 1948-1963: A Mathematical Logician's View, unpublished, 
Los Angeles, CA, July 5, 1985, courtesy James F. Digby; Martin 
Collins and Joseph Tatarewicz, Smithsonian Interview with Prof. 
Albert Wohlstetter, unpublished, Los Angeles, CA, July 29, 1987, 
final edit, September 9, 1991, courtesy Joan Wohlstetter; and 
Collins, Tatarewicz, and Gustave Shubert, RAND Corporation 
History: Session Four [for the Smithsonian Videohistory Program]; 
Interview with Bruno Augenstein, Edward Barlow, Burton Klein, 
Robert Specht, Hans Speier, and Albert Wohlstetter, Santa Monica, 
CA, January 27, 1989; and Allen Greb and Digby, An Interview 
with Albert Wohlstetter: The Strategist Reflects on the Past and Future 


of Nuclear Policies, unpublished, August 2, 1990, revised July 10, 

1991, in the Wohlstetter Papers, Interviews, Box 95, Folders 5-7. In 
addition, Stephen Prowse's 1991 biographical sketches of Albert 
and Roberta helped with establishing the correct chronology and 
dates. See Prowse, "Albert Wohlstetter: A Biographical Sketch" 
and "Roberta Wohlstetter: A Biographical Sketch," in Andrew W. 
Marshall, J. J. Martin, and Henry S. Rowen, eds.. On Not Confusing 
Ourselves: Essays on National Security Strategy in Honor of Albert and 
Roberta Wohlstetter, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991, pp. 317- 
320 and 321-322. 

22. Albert's three older siblings were William (1902-1967), 
Helene (1906-1974), and Charles (1910-1995). Charles became a 
highly successful businessman, establishing in 1961 Continental 
Telephone (Contel), an independent telephone company that 
would be acquired by GTE in the 1990s. See John Holusha, 
"Charles Wohlstetter, 85, Founder of Contel, Dies," obituaries. 
The New York Times, May 25, 1995, p. B16. Helene would end up 
working at Contel, but would be tragically murdered in the mid- 
1970s during a disgruntled former Contel employee's shooting 
rampage. See "Obituaries," The New York Times, August 5, 1974, 
p. 26. 

23. See Digby and Goldhamer, An Interview with Albert 
Wohlstetter: The Development of Strategic Thinking at RAND, 1948- 
1963: A Mathematical Logician's View, p. 3. Albert often cited the 
importance of two Peircean writings, among others: Charles S. 
Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief," Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 12, 
November 1877, pp. 1-15; and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," 
Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 12, January 1878, pp. 286-302. These 
writings are available in Nathan Houser and Christian J. W. 
Kloesel, eds.. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, 
Vol. 1: 1867-1893, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 

1992, pp. 109-123, 124-141. 

24. See "City College R.O.T.C. Names 81 Officers," The New 
York Times, May 7, 1933, p. 22. 

25. Roberta Mary Morgan Wohlstetter was born in Duluth, 
MN, on August 22, 1912. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree 
from Vassar College in 1933, a Master of Arts degree in psychology 
from Columbia University in 1936, and a Master of Art's degree 


in literature from Radcliffe College in 1937. After marrying Albert 
Wohlstetter in 1939, she taught at Barnard College in the early 
1940s and at Howard University in the mid-1940s before joining 
the RAND Corporation as a consultant in 1947. 

26. Willard Van Orman Quine mentions the Wohlstetters 
several times in his memoir. See Quine, The Time of My Life: An 
Autobiography, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000, pp. 147, 184, 198, 

27. For more on the history of General Panel's "Packaged 
House," as well as on the roles that Albert Wohlstetter and his 
brother Charles played in the company, see Gilbert Herbert, 

The Dream of the Factory-Made House: Walter Gropius and Konrad 
Wachsmann, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984. 

28. In the following discussion of Albert Wohlstetter's 
methodology, I benefited greatly from many hours of discussion 
on this subject with former businessman and Chicago-based 
independent historian James Johnson. As an undergraduate at 
the University of Chicago in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. 
Johnson had studied under Wohlstetter and worked for him on 
projects relating to the use of the method of scientific investigation 
versus the appeal to scientific authority in debates over public 

29. See Albert Wohlstetter, Theory and Opposed-System Design, 
D(L)-16001-1, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, August 
1967, revised January 1968, available from 
history/wohlstetter/DL16001.1/DL16001.1.html. This was later 
published in slightly revised form as Wohlstetter, "Theory and 
Opposed-System Design," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 12, 
No. 3, September 1968, pp. 302-331. See also Wohlstetter, No 
Highway to High Purpose, P-2084-RC, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, June 1960, available from 
wohlstetter/P2084/P2084.html, later published in slightly abridged 
form as "A Purpose Hammered Out of Reflection and Choice," 
Life, Vol. 48, No. 24, June 20, 1960, pp. 115, 126-134; "Analysis 
and Design of Conflict Systems," in E. S. Quade, ed.. Analysis for 
Military Decisions, Chicago, IL: Rand McNally & Co., 1964, pp. 
103-148, available from; 
and "National Decisions Concerning Defense," in J. Banbury and 


J. Maitland, eds., Proceedings of the Second International Conference 
on Operations Research {in Aix-En-Provence, France, 1960), London, 
UK: English Universities Press, February 1961, pp. 517-522. 

30. Wohlstetter, "Theory and Opposed-System Design," p. 

31. Ibid. 

32. Wohlstetter, No Highway to High Purpose. 

33. Wohlstetter, "Theory and Opposed-Systems Design," p. 


34. Ibid., p. 303. 

35. Ibid. 

36. Ibid., p. 309. 

37. Ibid., p. 316. 

38. On this topic, see Albert Wohlstetter, "Scientists, Seers, and 
Strategy," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 41, No. 3, April 1963, pp. 466-478. 
See also Wohlstetter, Scientists, Seers, and Strategy, unpublished 
book-length manuscript, circa 1963, courtesy Joan Wohlstetter. 

39. Wohlstetter, "Theory and Opposed-Systems Design," pp. 

40. See Albert Wohlstetter, "The Delicate Balance of Terror," 
Foreign Affairs, Vol. 37, No. 2, January 1959, pp. 211-234. For the 
extended version of the essay, see Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance 
of Terror, unabridged version, P-1472, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, November 6, 1958, revised December 1958, available 

41. Marc Trachtenberg, History and Strategy, Princeton, NJ: 
Princeton University Press, 1991, p. 20. 

42. As Wohlstetter recalled decades later: 

[W]hat attracted me to [the problem] was that there 


were forces working in opposing directions. There were 
some forces that would make you want to be up close, 
so that you could have close access to targets, be able to 
act quickly, get in many sorties, use shorter range weap- 
ons and so on. And on the other hand, there were some 
things that made you want to be [further] back because if 
you were close to him, why, there was just a good chance 
he would also be close to you, so he would be getting 
in a lot of whacks. . . . But then you could see that this 
meant you would need a larger aircraft or you would 
have to refuel a lot of times, and so on. And it struck me 
that in the abstract there was no way of resolving this. 
. . . [T]here was no way of knowing how these opposing 
considerations would work out in the net effect without 
looking at the geography. 

See Digby and Goldhamer, An Interview with Albert Wohlstetter: 
The Development of Strategic Thinking at RAND, 1948-1963: A 
Mathematical Logician's View, pp. 35-36. 

43. For a case study of the Base Study, see E. S. Quade, 
"The Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases: A Case History," 
in Quade, ed.. Analysis for Military Decisions, pp. 24-64. See also 
Memorandum from Colonel D. O. Monteith (USAF) to Colonel 
Watson, A Brief Resume of RAND Report R-266, "Selection and Use 
of Strategic Air Bases, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) 
reference no. 381, April 8, 1955, TOP SECRET, declassified on 
November 2, 1978, DDRS No. CK3100452915. 

44. Here I wish to acknowledge Fred Hoffman and Harry 
Rowen, both longtime Wohlstetter colleagues, who had stressed 
to me many times the importance of understanding the politico- 
military historical context in which the Base Study had begun, 
and the need to explain the Base and Vulnerability Studies in a 
way that avoided historical anachronism. 

45. See Quade, ed.. Analysis for Military Decisions, p. 24. Using 
a "back-of-the-envelope" calculation, I crudely estimate that $3.5 
billion in FY 1952 dollars is approximately equivalent to as much 
as $28.5 billion to $30.2 billion in FY 2007 dollars. 

46. Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Robert J. Lutz, 
and Henry S. Rowen, The Selection of Strategic Air Bases, R-244-S, 


special staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, March 
1, 1953, TOP SECRET, declassified on July 1, 1963, available from 

47. Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Henry S. Rowen, 
and Robert J. Lutz, The Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases, 
R-266, final report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, April 
1954, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1961, available from www. 

rand, org/pu bs/reports/R0266/. 

48. From mid-to-late 1953, the Ad Hoc Committee of the U.S. 
Air Force's Air Staff evaluated the Base Study, and then presented 
its favorable evaluation to the USAF's Air Force Council, which 
then debated the Study in Wohlstetter's presence. In late 1953, the 
Air Force Council decided to endorse key elements of the Base 
Study's preferred system, and this decision was approved by Air 
Force Chief of Staff General Thomas D. White and Secretary of 
the Air Force Harold Talbott. See Quade, ed.. Analysis for Military 
Decisions, pp. 62-63; Collins and Tatarewicz, Smithsonian Interview 
with Prof. Albert Wohlstetter, pp. 15-17; and Fred Kaplan, The 
Wizards of Armageddon, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983, pp. 
97-110 — esp. 105-106, as well as related endnotes on p. 402, one 
of which cites General Robert Burns, "Decision on AFC 22/4b: 
Vulnerability of the Strategic Striking Complex," November 2, 
1953, in Library of Congress, Nathan Twining Papers, Box 103, Air 
Force Council Chief Staff Decisions, Vol. I, Tab 22/4b. 

49. See Albert J. Wohlstetter and Fred S. Hoffman, Defending 
a Strategic Force After 1960: With Notes on the Need by Both Sides for 
Accurate Bomb Delivery, Particularly for the Big Bombs, D-2270, Santa 
Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, February 1, 1954, available from 
An implication of this finding, however, was that even modest 
improvements to warhead delivery accuracies could enable huge 
reductions in explosive yield. 

50. Bernard Brodie "Implications for Military Policy," in 
Brodie, ed.. The Absolute Weapons, New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace 
& Co., 1946, pp. 99, 88. 

51. For example, see Albert Wohlstetter, "'Lesser' Excluded 
Cases," opinion. The New York Times, February 14, 1979, p. A25. 


52. Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, and Henry S. Rowen, 
Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, R-290, 
staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, September 1, 
1956, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1960s, available from www. 

53. Ibid., pp. 40-41, emphasis added. 

54. Ibid., p. 6. 

55. Ibid., pp. 2-3. 

56. Ibid., p. 5. 

57. In R-290, the Wohlstetter team wrote: "We would like this 
course of Soviet action [i.e., a preclusive nuclear first strike] to be 
a worse alternative to almost any other they might contemplate — 
including, for example, the acceptance of defeat in some limited 
or peripheral war." Ibid., p. 41. 

58. For the full description of R-290's recommendations, see 
Wohlstetter et al., Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 1950s 
and 1960s, pp. 43-94. 

59. Memorandum from Colonel Jack W. Hayes (USAF), Joint 
Strategic Plans Group, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
NSC Briefing on the Vulnerability of SAC, JCS 2250, July 31, 1956, 
TOP SECRET, declassified on November 16, 1978, DDRS No. 
CK3100434873; and Memorandum, Program Objectives Related 
to SAC Operational Capability, AFOPD-PL-SS/Col Sutterlin/ 
mfm/5503, November 17, 1956, TOP SECRET, declassified on 
January 30, 1980, DNSA No. 01323. 

60. For more on the events that led to SAC's adoption of 
Fail-Safe in Spring 1958, see Albert Wohlstetter, "SAC Test 1957 
of Alert Bomber Response — Only Fail-Unsafe," April 29, 1985, 
Wohlstetter Papers, Notes, Box 102, Folder 6, TAB H. See also 
Memorandum CSAFM-72-58 from the USAF Chief of Staff to the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Launching of the Strategic Air Command Alert 
Force, JCS 1899/398, March 10, 1958, TOP SECRET, declassified 
circa 1981, DDRS No. CK3100437133; "Launching of SAC Alert 
Forces ('Fail Safe')," in Memorandum, Discussion at the 361st 
Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, April 3, 1958, 


April 4, 1958, TOP SECRET, declassified on July 18, 1989, DDRS 
No. CK3100278691, pp. 7-8; Note by the Secretariat of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff on Decision on Report by the Joint Strategic Plans 
Committee (In Collaboration with the Joint Intelligence Committee) on 
'Positive Control' Presentation to NSC, JCS 1899/402, with report 
attached. May 13, 1958, TOP SECRET, declassified on July 18, 1979, 
DDRS No. CK3100169750; and Benjamin Welles, "U.S. Bombers 
in Spain Poised to Take to Air in 15 Minutes: Specially Trained 
Crews Kept on Alert for Orders from Main Omaha Base — Each Jet 
Has Assigned Target," The New York Times, September 6, 1958, p. 

61. See Wohlstetter, Hoffman, and Rowen, Protecting U.S. 
Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, pp. 76-77. 

62. See Fred C. Ikle, Gerald J. Aronson, and Albert Madansky, 

On the Risk of an Accidental or Unauthorized Nuclear Detonation, 
RM-2251, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, October 15, 
1958, esp. pp. 100-101 and 154, available from 

63. Background on Baran's work on survivable and distributed 
communication networks is available from 
baran.html. See also Virginia Campbell, "How RAND Invented 
the Postwar World," Invention & Technology, Summer 2004, 
esp. pp. 57-58, available from 

64. Citations in this section refer not to the abridged Foreign 
Affairs version of the article, but rather to the extended version: 
Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror, unabridged. 

65. To Wohlstetter, a prototypical automatic deterrer was Nobel 
prize-winning physicist Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, who 
had written: "If it is in fact true, as most current opinion holds, 
that strategic air power has abolished global war, then an urgent 
problem for the West is to assess how little effort must be put into 
it to keep global war abolished." See Blackett, Atomic Weapons and 
East-West Relations, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 
1956, p. 32. Quoted by Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror, 


66. In Wohlstetter's view. General Pierre Gallois of France, 
who had claimed that "a small number of bombs and a small 
number of carriers suffice for a threatened power to protect 
itself against atomic destruction," represented well the school 
of minimum deterrence. See Gallois, "A French General Analyzes 
Nuclear-Age Strategy," Realites, November 1958, p. 71. Quoted 
by Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror, unabridged. See 
also 1970 Without Arms Control, Special Committee Report, 
Washington, DC: National Planning Association, 1958, and P. H. 
Backus, "Finite Deterrence, Controlled Retaliation," U.S. Naval 
Institute Proceedings, Vol. 84, No. 3, March, 1959, both of which 
advocate for an essentially "minimum deterrent" approach. 

67. Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror, unabridged. 

68. Ibid. 

69. During a private, high-level dinner at the Council 
on Foreign Relations in New York City in 1960, Wohlstetter 
elaborated further on the distinction between automatic deterrers 
and minimum deterrers: 

Attitudes vary towards the problem of avoiding deliber- 
ate attack and towards the problem of avoiding acciden- 
tal war. This variation, too, qualifies the apparently gen- 
eral agreement on the importance of reducing the likeli- 
hood of central war. Those who have held the theory of 
the automatic balance of terror worry about the accident 
problem, but not the problem of deliberate attack. Hold- 
ers of the theory of minimum deterrence think it impor- 
tant to deter deliberate attack, but underestimate its dif- 
ficulty, because they neglect the accident problem. . . . 

Quoted by William C. Staley, Jr., Rapporteur, Study Group Reports: 
Strategy and Foreign Policy, First Meeting, unpublished. Council on 
Foreign Relations, New York, NY, March 16, 1960, p. 14. Meeting 
attendees included: James A. Perkins, Wohlstetter, Staley, Frank 
Altschul, Robert Amory, Jr., Major General C. H. Bonesteel, III 
(Army), Melvin Conant, Russell H. Fifield, George S. Franklin, 
Jr., Caryl P. Haskins, William W. Kaufmann, Major General Glen 
Martin, Oskar Morgenstern, Philip E. Mosely, Garrison Norton, 
Philip W. Quigg, Dean Rusk, Joseph E. Slater, and Henry M. 


70. Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror, unabridged. 

71. In a May 1959 internal RAND report, Albert Wohlstetter 
and Henry Rowen wrote that it is important to view efforts to deter 
a preclusive nuclear first strike through the "broad" concept of a 
system of strategic nuclear forces composed of many elements: 

[Deterrence] will require the ability to maintain under 
conditions of attack a functioning system of elements, 
including besides the mobile or hardened delivery ve- 
hicles with the capacity to reach and penetrate the active 
and passive enemy defenses, the preservation of cen- 
ters of responsible decision and control, and a network 
permitting a protected flow of information to and from 
these decision centers. The Air Force, which pioneered 
the weapons systems idea, needs to emphasize a still 
broader systems concept. With the widespread multi- 
plication and dispersal of weapons, positive signals are 
essential to avoid war by accident or miscalculation. To 
deter a deliberate attack, the system of control must be 
able to survive the attack which we aim to deter. . . . [We 
need] a broadened systems concept emphasizing the 
ability to keep a network of elements alive and in com- 
munication for the duration of the enemy's and our own 
attacks — for days, not hours or minutes. 

See Wohlstetter and Rowen, "Objectives of the United States 
Military Posture," RM-2373, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, May 1, 1959, available from 

11. For example, see Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, Notes 
on the Cuban Crisis: On the Importance of Overseas Bases in the 
1960's, Offense-Defense Semantics, Keeping Open Possible Aid to 
Cuban Resistance, D(L)-10647-ISA, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, October 28, 1962, available from 
about/history/wohlstetter/DL10647/DL10647.html; Studies for a Post- 
Communist Cuba, D(L)-11060-ISA, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, February 25, 1963, available from 
about/histori//wohlstetter/DL11060/DL11060.html; On Dealing with 
Castro's Cuba, Part I, D-17906-ISA, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, January 16, 1965, available from 


history/wohlstetter/D17906/D17906.html; and Controlling the Risks in 
Cuba, Adelphi Papers No. 17, London, UK: Institute for Strategic 
Studies, April 1965. See also Roberta Wohlstetter, "Cuba and Pearl 
Harbor: Hindsight and Foresight," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 43, No. 4, 
July 1965, pp. 691-707. 

73. P. M.S. Blackett, Studies of War: Nuclear and Conventional, 
Edinburgh, UK: Oliver and Boyd, Ltd., 1962, pp. 131, 136. 

74. See Robert J. C. Butow, Tojo and the Coming of the War, 
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961, p. 255. Quoted by 
Rosecrance, "Albert Wohlstetter," p. 61. 

75. See O'Dowd Gallagher, Action in the East, Garden City, 
NY: Doubleday, 1942, p. 94. Quoted by Wohlstetter, The Delicate 
Balance of Terror, unabridged, fn. 6. 

76. Elsewhere in "The Delicate Balance of Terror," Wohlstetter 
again elaborates: 

The most important thing to say perhaps is that it doesn't 
make much sense to talk about whether general war is 
likely or not unless we specify a good deal else about 
the range of circumstances in which the choice of sur- 
prise attack might present itself. . . . Deterrence is a mat- 
ter of comparative risks. How much the Soviets will risk 
in surprise attack will depend in part on the vulnerabil- 
ity of our future posture. . . . [T]he risks of not striking 
might at some juncture appear very great to the Soviets, 
involving, for example, disastrous defeat in peripheral 
war, loss of key satellites with danger of revolt spread- 
ing—possibly to Russia itself— or fear of an attack by 
ourselves. Then, striking first, by surprise, would be the 
sensible choice for them, and from their point of view 
the smaller risk. 

Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror (unabridged), emphasis 

77. Quoted by Staley, Study Group Reports: Strategy and Foreign 
Policy, p. 16, emphasis added. 


78. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962, pp. 400-401. 

79. Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror (unabridged). 

80. Albert Wohlstetter, "Some General Comments on Senator 
[John F.] Kennedy's National Security Speeches," circa 1960, 
Wohlstetter Papers, Writings, Box 148, Folder 10. 

81. See The North Atlantic Nations: Tasks for the 1960s, a report 
to the Secretary of State, August 1, 1960, SECRET, declassified on 
January 9, 1986, DDRS No. CK3100227683. Known as "the Bowie 
Report," the study was authored by Robert A. Bowie, who served 
as Director of the Department of State's Policy Planning Staff from 
1953 to 1957. 

82. See A Review of North Atlantic Problems for the Future, 
the Committee on U.S. Political, Economic and Military Policy 
in Europe's Policy Guidance to the National Security Council, 
March 1961, SECRET, declassified on December 30, 1996, DNSA 
No. NH01131, esp. pp. 7-11. 

83. See Comparison of "A Review of North Atlantic Problems for 
the Future" with Existing National Security Council Policy, National 
Security Council memorandum, March 28, 1961, SECRET, 
declassified on May 20, 1994, DDRS No. CK3100055224; and Policy 
Directive Regarding NATO and the AtlanticNations, National Security 
[Action] Memorandum No. 40, April 24, 1961, CONFIDENTIAL, 
declassified on May 4, 1977, DNSA No. BC02034. 

84. Albert Wohlstetter, "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 
Country," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 39, No. 3, April 1961, pp. 355-387 

85. Pierre Gallois, The Balance of Terror: Strategy for the Nuclear 
Age, trans. Richard Howard, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1961, 
p. 130. Originally published as Gallois, Strategic de I'age Nucleaire, 
Paris, France: Calmann-Levy, 1960. 

86. Ibid., p. 109. 

87. Ibid., p. 57. By the 1980s, however. General Gallois would 
reverse some of his minimum deterrence views. See Gallois and 
John Train, "When a Nuclear Strike is Thinkable," Wall Street 
Journal, March 22, 1984, p. 30. 


88. Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror. 

89. Wohlstetter, "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 
Country," p. 363. 

90. Ibid., p. 385. 

91. Ibid., pp. 385-386. 

92. See Henry A. Kissinger, Memorandum of Conversation in 
Paris on February 5, 1962, Department of State, February 9, 1962, 
CONFIDENTIAL, declassified on March 2, 1997, DDRS No. 
CK3100108824, p. 2. 

93. For one version of the U.S. Government's history of these 
negotiations, see U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 
International Negotiations on the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of 
Nuclear Weapons, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing 
Office, 1969. In 1967, as the negotiations for what would eventually 
become the NPT were coming to an end, Richard T. Cooper of the 
Chicago Sun-Times profiled Wohlstetter' s views on proliferation. 
Wrote Cooper: "A carefully drafted treaty banning the spread of 
nuclear weapons can be moderately useful for maintaining world 
order, but no treaty can by itself eliminate the problem, Albert 
Wohlstetter, an expert on nuclear weapons problems, cautioned." 
See Cooper, "A Treaty — How Useful?" Chicago Sun-Times, 
February 19, 1967, pp. 1-2. 

94. Hans J. Morgenthau was a noted "realist" scholar of 
international relations, and professor of political science at 
the University of Chicago. Private correspondence detailing 
Morgenthau' s role in helping Albert Wohlstetter to get an 
appointment to the University of Chicago is available in the 
Morgenthau Papers at the Library of Congress. 

95. For example, see Albert Wohlstetter, Strength, Interest, 
and New Technologies, opening address before The Implications 
of Military Technology in the 1970s, the Institute for Strategic 
Studies' ninth annual conference, Elsinore, Denmark, September 
28 to October 1, 1967, D(L)-16624-PR, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, January 24, 1968, available from 


history/wohlstetter/DL16624/DL16624.html. The address was also 
published as Wohlstetter, Strength, Interest and New Technologies, in 
The Implications of Military Technology in the 1970s, Adelphi Papers 
No. 46, London, UK: Institute for Strategic Studies, March 1968. 
See also Wohlstetter, "Perspective on Nuclear Energy," Speech 
Before the University of Chicago's Twenty-Fifth Anniversary 
Observance of the First Controlled Self-Sustaining Nuclear 
Reaction, December 2, 1967, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 
24, No. 4, April 1968, pp. 2-5. 

96. See Albert Wohlstetter et ah. Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear 
Armed Crowd? ACDA Report No. PH-76-04-389-14, December 
4, 1975, revised April 22, 1976. This 1975 ACDA report was 
published in revised form 4 years later as Swords from Plowshares: 
The Military Potential of Civilian Nuclear Energy, Chicago, IL: 
University of Chicago Press, 1979. His coauthors were Thomas 
A. Brown, Gregory S. Jones, David McGarvey, Henry S. Rowen, 
Vince Taylor, and Roberta Wohlstetter. 

97. Roberta Wohlstetter examined how American policies 
unwittingly assisted Indian efforts to build a nuclear explosive in 
The Buddha Smiles: Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb. 
For an abridged version of this report, see Roberta Wohlstetter, 
"The Buddha Smiles: U.S. Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb," 
in Albert Wohlstetter, Victor Gilinsky et al., eds.. Nuclear Policies: 
Fuel without the Bomb, Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing, 1979, 
pp. 57-72. 

98. Wohlstetter et al.. Swords from Plowshares, pp. 24-25. 

99. Ibid, p. 45. 

100. Ibid, p. 15. 

101. Ibid, p. 14, emphasis added. 

102. Ibid., p. 127. 

103. Ibid., p. 14. 

104. See Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, Gregory S. Jones, and 
Henry S. Rowen, Towards a New Consensus on Nuclear Technology, 
Vol. 1 of 2, report prepared for the Arms Control Disarmament 


Agency infulfillment of AC7NC106, PH-78-04-832-33, Los Angeles, 
CA: Pan Heuristics, July 6, 1979, available from 
Essays/19790706-TowardsANewConsensus-VolOl.pdfi and Arthur 
Steiner, "Article IV and the 'Straightforward Bargain,'" PAN 
Paper 78-832-08, in Wohlstetter et ah, Towards a New Consensus 
on Nuclear Technology, Vol. 2: Supporting Papers, ACDA Report 
No. PH-78-04-832-33, Marina del Rey, CA: Pan Heuristics, July 
6, 1979, available from 
ArticleIV-StraightforwardBargain.pdf. For a more recent analysis of 
the relationship between IAEA safeguarding effectiveness and 
legal interpretations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, see 
Robert Zarate, "The NPT, IAEA Safeguards, and Peaceful Nuclear 
Energy: An 'Inalienable Right,' But Precisely To What?" in Henry 
Sokolski, ed.. Falling Behind: International Scrutiny of the Peaceful 
Atom, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2008, pp. 221-290, 
available from 

105. For example, see Albert Wohlstetter, "Spreading the 
Bomb Without Quite Breaking the Rules," Foreign Policy, No. 25, 
Winter 1976-1977, pp. 88-96, 145-179; Wohlstetter, Thomas Brown, 
Gregory Jones, David McGarvey, Henry S. Rowen, Vincent Taylor, 
and Roberta Wohlstetter, "The Military Potential of Civilian 
Nuclear Energy," Minerva, Vol. 15, Nos. 3-4, Autumn- Winter 1977, 
pp. 387-538; Albert Wohlstetter, Victor Gilinsky, Robert Gillette, 
and Roberta Wohlstetter, eds.. Nuclear Policies: Fuel without the 
Bomb, Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1978; Wohlstetter et ah, Nuclear 
Alternatives and Proliferation Risks, DOE EN-77-C-01-2643, Los 
Angeles, CA: Pan Heuristics, July 27, 1978; Wohlstetter et al, 
Towards a New Consensus on Nuclear Technology; and Wohlstetter 
and Henry S. Rowen, U.S. Non-Proliferation Strategy Reformulated, 
Report Prepared for the National Security Council and DOE, 
August 29, 1979. 

106. President Gerald Ford, "Statement of the President 
on Nuclear Policy," Office of the White House Press Secretary, 
October 28, 1976. 

107. See Henry Sokolski, "The Washington Posf Bombs Nuclear 
History," The Weekly Standard, March 28, 2005, available from www. 
weekly standard.eom/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/4:17gusvl. 


108. President Jimmy Carter, "Statement of the President on 
Nuclear Power Policy/' Office of the White House Press Secretary, 
April 7, 1977. 

109. U.S. Congress, The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, 
Public Law 95-242. 

110. Carl Walske, "Nuclear Power and Nuclear Proliferation," 
Speech Delivered to the International Conference on Nuclear 
Power and the Public — A European-American Dialogue, Geneva, 
Switzerland, September 27, 1977. 

111 . For key hearings on the ABM before the Senate Committee 
on Armed Services held on April 22 and 23, 1969, see Authorization 
for Military Procurement, Research and Development, Fiscal Year 1970, 
and Reserve Strength, hearings before the U.S. Senate's Committee 
on Armed Services, 1st session, part 2 of 2, Washington, DC: U.S. 
Government Printing Office, 1969, pp. 1109-1456a. 

112. As Dr. George Rathjens stated before the Senate Armed 
Services Committee: 

Yet even if the Soviet SS-9 missile force were to grow 
as rapidly as the Defense Department's most worrisome 
projections, even if the Soviet Union were to develop 
and employ MIRV's with those missiles and even if they 
achieved accuracies as good as we apparently expect 
with our MIRV forces (according to figures released in 
late 1967 by former Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] 
Nitze), a quarter of our MINUTEMAN force could be ex- 
pected to survive a Soviet preemptive SS-9 attack. That 
quarter would alone be more than enough to inflict un- 
acceptable damage on the U.S.S.R. 

See Rathjens, "Statement before Senate Committee on Armed 
Services," excerpt April 23, 1968, in Programming-Budgeting: 
Defense Analysis: Two Examples, reprint by the U.S. Senate's 
Subcommittee on National Security and International Operations, 
Committee on Government Operations, of testimony before the 
U.S. Senate's Committee on Armed Services, Washington, DC: 
U.S. Government Printing Office, September 10, 1969, p. 2. 


113. Jerome Wiesner, in Wiesner, George McGovern, Donald 
Brennan, and Leon Johnson, Anti-Ballistic Missile: Yes or No? New 
York: Hill and Wang, 1969, pp. 13-14. 

114. Quoted by Meg Greenfield, "The Ragged Non-Debate on 
the ABM," opinion, Washington Post, p. A22. 

115. According to ABM opponent Ralph E. Lapp, Senator 
Symington had also broached the possible utility of launch-on- 

Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, a former Secre- 
tary of the Air Force, raised the issue of U.S. policy in the 
event that radar revealed a massive first strike aimed at 
Minuteman bases. Would the Minutemen be fired before 
Soviet warheads began digging into the U.S. soil? If so, 
Soviet missiles would be hitting empty holes. (As Sena- 
tor Fulbright pointed out, empty holes may be our most 
powerful deterrent weapon.) 

See Lapp, "A Biography of the ABM: From Nike to Safeguard," 
The New York Times, May 4, 1969, p. SM 129. 

116. Albert Wohlstetter, "The Case for Strategic Force 
Defense," in Johan Jorgen Hoist and William Schneider, Jr., eds.. 

Why ABM? Policy Issues in the Missile Defense Controversy, New 
York: Pergamon Press, 1969, pp. 119-142. 

117. See "Appendix III: Treatment of Operations-Research 
Questions in the 1969 Debate," Operations Research: The Journal of 
the Operations Research Society of America, Vol. 19, No. 5, September 
1971, pp. 1175-1237. 

118. See ibid., p. 1176. On December 22, 1969, George Rathjens, 
Steven Weinberg, and Jerome Wiesner sent a letter to Thomas 
Caywood, president of the Operations Research Society of 
American (ORSA), questioning "both the wisdom of an inquiry 
and the standing and capacity of the Operations Research Society 
of America to carry it out." See "Appendix IV: Correspondence 
and Comments," in ibid., pp. 1250-1251. 


119. During the Senate committee hearing, Albert Wohlstetter 

The budget for strategic offense and defense forces in 
fiscal 1962 was 11.3 billion dollars. The proposed fiscal 
1970 budget, as of June, comes to about 8 billion dollars. 
Adjusted for price changes, the 1962 figure was well over 
fifty per cent higher than that for 1970, perhaps even as 
much as two-thirds higher. 

See Wohlstetter, "The Case for Strategic Force Defense," p. 120. 

120. Ibid., p. 122. 

121. Ibid., italics added. 

122. Wohlstetter et ah, Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 
1950s and 1960s, pp. 76-77. 

123. Wohlstetter, "The Case for Strategic Force Defense," p. 
123, italics added. 

124. Treaty between the United States of America and the Union 
of Soviet Socialist RepubUcs on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile 
Systems, May 26, 1972, entered into force on October 3, 1972. 

125. For example, see John W. Finney, "Safeguard ABM 
System to Shut Down," The New York Times, November 25, 1975, 
pp. 1 and 74. 

126. Albert Wohlstetter, "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" 
Foreign Policy, No. 15, Summer 1974, p. 3. This essay was part 
one in Wohlstetter' s two-part series on the strategic competition 
in Foreign Policy. For part two, see Wohlstetter, "Rivals, But No 
'Race'," Foreign Policy, No. 16, Fall 1974, pp. 48-81. Subsequent 
reports expanded this two-part series to include the data from 
which Wohlstetter made his key inferences: See Wohlstetter, 
Legends of the Strategic Arms Race, USSI Report 75-1, Washington, 
DC: United States Strategic Institute, September 1974, p. 5, available 
from; and Wohlstetter, Thomas Brown, 
Gregory Jones, David McGarvey, Robert Raab, Arthur Steiner, 
Roberta Wohlstetter, and Zivia Wurtele, The Strategic Competition: 
Perceptions and Response, final report for the Director of Defense 


Research and Engineering (Net Technical Assessment), DAHC 
15-73-C-0137, Los Angeles, CA: Pan Heuristics, January 14, 1975. 
Wohlstetter's two-part essay generated considerable comment 
and criticism in Foreign Policy. Comments in general agreement 
included: Paul H. Nitze, "Comments," Foreign Policy, No. 16, Fall 

1974, pp. 82-83; and Johan Jorgen Hoist, "What is Really Going 
On?" Foreign Policy, No. 19, Summer 1975, pp. 155-163. Moderately 
critical responses included: Joseph Alsop, "Comments," Foreign 
Policy, No. 16, Fall 1974, pp. 83-88. Extremely critical responses 
included: Morton H. Halperin and Jeremy J. Stone, "Comments," 
Foreign Policy, No. 16, Fall 1974, pp. 88-92; Paul C. Warnke, "Apes 
on a Treadmill," Foreign Policy, No. 18, Spring 1975, pp. 12-29; and 
Michael L. Nacht, "The Delicate Balance of Error," Foreign Policy, 
No. 19, Summer 1975, pp. 163-177. Wohlstetter responded to these 
comments and criticisms in "Optimal Ways to Confuse Ourselves," 
Foreign Policy, No. 20, Fall 1975, pp. 170-198. A considerably 
expanded version of this essay is available as: Albert Wohlstetter, 
Thomas Brown, Gregory Jones, David McGarvey, Robert Raab, 
Arthur Steiner, Roberta Wohlstetter and Zivia Wurtele, Methods 
That Obscure and Methods That Clarify the Strategic Competition, 
DAHC 15-73-C-0074, Los Angeles, CA: Pan Heuristics, June 30, 

1975, available from 

127. Wohlstetter, "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" p. 10. 

128. Ibid., p. 4. 

129. Ibid., pp. 10-18. 

130. Wohlstetter, "Rivals, But No 'Race'," p. 66. 

131. Ibid., pp. 71-79. 

132. Albert Wohlstetter, "Racing Forward? Or Ambling 
Back?" Survey, Vol. 22. Nos. 3/4, Summer 1976, p. 216. 

133. Ibid. 

134. Ibid. In a 1987 profile of Albert Wohlstetter in the Wall 
Street journal, John J. Fialka wrote: 

In Mr. Wohlstetter's world, arms-control enthusiasts are 
looked upon with the same deep suspicion he reserves 


for generals and admirals who measure success by sim- 
ply adding up megatonnage. He regards the political 
hoopla surrounding arms-control talks as "a very dan- 
gerous game" because it heightens people's hopes for 
easy solutions. . . . The kinds of agreements that might 
be enforced, he believes, are those that give each side the 
freedom to innovate defenses. 

See Fialka, "Veteran 'Lone Ranger' Strategist Packs Firepower 
with Cold-Eyed Outlook on Soviet Nuclear Policy," p. 56. 

135. Albert Wohlstetter and Brian G. Chow, "Arms Control 
That Could Work," opinion. Wall Street Journal, July 17, 1985, p. 
28; and Self-Defense Zones in Space, study for Integrated Long-Term 
Defense Strategy in partial fulfillment of MDA903-84-C-0325, 
Marina del Rey, CA: Pan Heuristics, July 1986, available from 
www.alhertwohlstetter. com . 

136. See Report on the Origin, Procedures, and Status of the 
Experiment in Competitive Analysis on National Intelligence Issues, 
memorandum. White House, December 13, 1976, SECRET, 
declassified on October 17, 1996, DDRS No. CK3100092315. The 
name of this memo's author has been removed. 

137. Ibid., p. 2. 

138. Ibid., p. 3. 

139. Intelligence Community Experiment in Competitive Analysis: 
Soviet Strategic Objectives An Alternative View, Report of Team "B," 
December 1976, TOP SECRET, declassified on December 16, 1992, 
DNSA No. SE00501. The "B" team's leader was Dr. Richard Pipes; 
its associate members were Dr. William Van Cleave, Lieutenant 
General Daniel Graham, U.S. Army (Ret.), Dr. Thomas Wolfe of 
the RAND Corporation, and General John Vogt, U.S. Air Force 
(Ret.); advisory panel members were Amb. Foy Kohler, Paul 
Nitze, Amb. Seymour Weiss, Maj. General Jasper Welch, U.S. Air 
Force, and Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, then a member of the U.S. Arms 
Control and Disarmament Agency. 

140. See "The Book by Albert Wohlstetter," in Albert and 
Roberta Wohlstetter, Proposal to the Ford Foundation, unpublished, 
June 30, 1989, p. 13, courtesy of Joan Wohlstetter. Although he 


began writing this memoir, he never completed it. Drafts of the 
first chapter are available at the Wohlstetter Papers, housed at the 
Hoover Institution's archives. 

141. Albert Wohlstetter, Letter to the Editor, Washington Post, 
January 15, 1977, p. A18. 

142. For a critique of "mirror-imaging," see Andrew W. 
Marshall, Bureaucratic Behavior and the Strategic Arms Competition, 
Santa Monica, CA: Southern California Seminar on Arms Control 
and Foreign Policy, 1971, esp. pp. 3-6. 

143. At a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that 
same year. Secretary of Defense Brown made a similar statement: 
"The Soviets have really been quite single-minded. They 
increased their defense expenditures as we increased ours. And 
they increased their defense expenditures as we decreased ours." 
See Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, testimony, January 31, 
1979, in Department of Defense Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1980, 
hearings before a Subcommittee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, 
96th Congress, 1st session, Washington, DC: U.S. Government 
Printing Office, 1979, p. 278 

144. Thomas C. Schelling and Morton H. Halperin (with 
research assistance by Donald Brennan), Strategy and Arms 
Control, New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961, p. 2. Schelling, 
Halperin, and Brennan continue: 

The essential feature of arms control is the recognition of 
the common interest, of the possibility of reciprocation 
and cooperation even between potential enemies with 
respect to their military establishments. Whether the 
most promising areas of arms control involve reductions 
of certain kinds of military force, increases in certain 
kinds of military force, qualitative changes in weaponry, 
different modes of deployment, or arrangements super- 
imposed on existing military systems, we prefer to treat as 
an open question (emphasis added). 

145. Alain C. Enthoven, "1963 Nuclear Strategy Revisited," in 
Harold P. Ford and Francis X. Winters, S.J., eds.. Ethics and Nuclear 
Strategy? Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1977, pp. 76-77. See also 
Charles Fairbanks, "MAD and U.S. Strategy," in Henry Sokolski, 


ed., Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, Its Origins 
and Practice, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, November 
2004, pp. 137-147. 

146. Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, How Much Is 
Enough? Shaping the Defense Program, 1961-1969, New York: Harper 
& Row, 1971, p. 195, italics added. As Enthoven later wrote, the 
assured destruction metric: 

. . . was a criterion for adequacy of our deterrent; it was 
not a declaration of how the forces would actually he used 
in case of war. Since the amount of forces we needed to 
achieve the assured destruction mission were not very 
sensitive to the size of the Soviet offensive forces, this 
policy appeared to put a ceiling on U.S. offensive force 
requirements [emphasis in original] . 

See Enthoven, "1963 Nuclear Strategy Revisited," pp. 76-77. 

147. President John F. Kennedy, "State of the Union Address," 
January 11, 1962. 

148. Quotedby William W. Kaufmann, The McNamara Strategy, 
New York: Harper & Row, 1971, p. 116. 

149. As I researched the history of the Long Range Research 
and Development Planning Program, I learned a great deal from 
conversations with Dr. Stephen Lukasik, the former Advanced 
Research Projects Agency director who had co-initiated the study 
in the early 1970s. I also gained considerable historical background 
from the following paper: Andrew May and Bartlett Bulkley, 
The Pre-History of the Revolution in Military Affairs, unclassified 
draft report for Hicks & Associates' Strategic Assessment 
Center, McLean, VA: SAIC, February 2004, available from www. 

150. Colonel General N. A. Lomov, ed., Scientific-Technical 
Progress and the Revolution in Military Affairs (A Soviet View), 
translated and published under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force, 
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973. available 


151. D. A. Paolucci, Summary Report of the Long Range Research 
and Development Planning Program, Draft, February 7, 1975, TOP 
SECRET, declassified on December 31, 1983, pp. 6-7, available 
from Copy of report 
courtesy of Andrew May. 

152. Ibid., p. 7. 

153. Ibid., pp. 29-42. 

154. Ibid., pp. 21-28. 

155. Ibid., pp. 17-20. 

156. Ibid., pp. 23-24. 

157. Albert Wohlstetter and Henry S. Rowen, "Objectives of 
the United States Military Posture." 

158. See Wohlstetter, Strength, Interest, and New Technologies. 

159. For example, see Albert Wohlstetter and Henry S. 
Rowen, "Objectives of the United States Military Posture"; 
Wohlstetter, "Arms Debate: Letter in Response to 'The Megadeath 
Intellectuals,'" New York Review of Books, Vol. 1, No. 9, December 
26, 1963; and "Sin and Games in America," in Martin Shubik, ed.. 
Game Theory and Related Approaches to Social Behavior, New York: 
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1964, pp. 209-225. 

160. For example, see Albert Wohlstetter et ah, "The Debate 
on Military Policy: How Much is Enough? How Mad is MAD?" 
in Fred Warner Neal and Mary Kersey Harvey, eds., Pacem in 
Terris III, Vol. 2 of 4, Washington, DC: Center for the Study of 
Democratic Institutions, 1974, pp. 37-43; Wohlstetter, "Threats and 
Promises of Peace: Europe and America in the New Era," Orbis, 
Vol. 17, No. 4, Winter 1974, pp. 1107-1144; "Varying Response 
with Circumstance in Europe," in Johan Jorgen Hoist and Uwe 
Nerlich, eds.. Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: New Aims, New Arms, 
New York: Crane Russak, 1977, pp. 225-238; "Bishops, Statesmen, 
and Other Strategists on the Bombing of Innocents," Commentary, 
Vol. 75, No. 6, June 1983, pp. 15-35; "Between an Unfree World 
and None: Increasing Our Choices," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 63, No. 5, 
Summer 1985, pp. 962-994. 


161. Discriminate Deterrence, report of the Commission 
on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, Washington, DC: U.S. 
Government Printing Office, January 1988, p. 64, emphasis added, 
available from 
Deterrence. For a critical review, see, e.g., Paul Kennedy, "Not So 
Grand Strategy," New York Review of Books, Vol. 35, No. 8. May 
12, 1988, pp. 5-8. For Albert's reaction to such critical reviews, 
see Wohlstetter, "Overseas Reactions to Discriminate Deterrence/' 
Atlantic Community Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fall-Winter 1988, pp. 

162. See Andrew May and Bartlett Bulkley, The Pre-History of 
the Revolution in Military Affairs. 

163. On November 5, 1985, President Reagan awarded the 
Medal of Freedom to Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, as well as 
to Paul H. Nitze. 

164. "The Book by Albert Wohlstetter," in Albert and Roberta 
Wohlstetter, Proposal to the Ford Foundation, unpublished, June 
30, 1989, p. 17, courtesy of Joan Wohlstetter. He began, but never 
completed, this memoir. See also Wohlstetter, The Cumulative 
Information Revolution and the Future Role of Discriminate Military 
Forcein U.S. Sfrafegy, proposal to the Smith Richardson Foundation, 
revised June 12, 1991, courtesy Joan Wohlstetter. 

165. Published writings by Albert Wohlstetter on the topic of 
Persian Gulf contingencies in the late 1970s and early 1980s include 
Wohlstetter, "'Lesser' Excluded Cases," opinion. The New York 
Times, February 14, 1979, p. A25; "Half Wars and Half Policies in 
the Persian Gulf," in W. Scott Thompson, ed.. National Security in 
the 1980s: From Weakness to Strength, Washington, DC: Institute of 
Contemporary Studies, 1980; "Meeting the Threat in the Persian 
Gulf," Survey, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring 1980, pp. 128-188; "Les Etats- 
Unis et la Securite du Golfe," Politique Etrangere, Vol. 46, No. 1, 
March 1981, pp. 75-88. For unpublished writings by Albert on 
Persian Gulf contingencies, some of which were commissioned 
by the U.S. Government, see Wohlstetter, Interests and Power in 
the Persian Gulf Vol. 1: Overview, PH-80-4-113700-42C, draft final 
report prepared for the Director of Net Assessment (Office of 
Secretary of Defense), the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Program 
Analysis and Evaluation), and the Assistant Secretary of Defense 
(International Security Affairs), in partial fulfillment of DNA 001- 


78-C-0353 , Marina del Rey, CA: Pan Heuristics, March 31, 1980, 
courtesy Joan Wohlstetter; Protecting Persian Gulf Oil: U.S. and 
Alliance Military Policy, in Report on Persian Gulf Oil and Western 
Security, Vol. Ill, Final Report prepared for the U.S. Department of 
Energy, Contract No. HN-LV-79-2, PH80-11-LV7902-60C, Marina 
del Rey, CA: Pan Heuristics, November 4, 1980, courtesy Gregory 
S. Jones; and Interests and Power in ike Persian Gulf: Executive 
Summary, draft, Marina del Rey, CA: Pan Heuristics, February 
1981, courtesy Gregory S. Jones; and Interests and Power in the 
Persian Gulf: An Overview, Marina del Rey, CA: Pan Heuristics, 
February 1981, courtesy Gregory S. Jones. 

166. See Albert Wohlstetter, "Iraq: Dictatorship Is the 
Problem," opinion, Washington Post, April 24, 1991; Wohlstetter 
and Fred S. Hoffman, "The Bitter End," The New Republic, Vol. 
204, No. 17, April 29, 1991, pp. 20-24; Wohlstetter, "Wide Open 
Secret Coup," The National Review, Vol. 44, No. 5, March 16, 1992, 
pp. 34-36; "Help Iraqi Dissidents Oust Saddam," opinion. Wall 
Street Journal, August 25, 1992; and "High Time," National Review, 
Vol. 45, No. 3, February 15, 1993, pp. 30-33. 

167. See Albert Wohlstetter, "The Balkan Quagmire: Why 
We're in It — Still," opinion. Wall Street Journal, July 1, 1993, p. 
A14; "The Balkan Quagmire II: The Way Out," opinion. Wall 
Street Journal, July 2, 1993; "Genocide by Embargo," opinion. 
Wall Street Journal, May 9, 1994, p. A14; "Arms, Not Words, for 
Bosnia," opinion. Wall Street Journal, May 12, 1994, p. A14; "Notes 
to Clinton on Bosnia," opinion. Wall Street Journal, June 10, 1994, 
p. AlO; "Too Many Flip-Flops," opinion, Washington Post, June 
26, 1994; "Embargo the Aggressors, Not the Victims," opinion. 
Wall Street Journal, June 28, 1994, p. A18; "Creating a Greater 
Serbia: Clinton's Final Sell-Out of Bosnia," The New Republic, Vol. 
211, No. 5, August 1, 1994, pp. 22-27; "Bosnia: Air Power, Not 
Peacekeepers," opinion. Wall Street Journal, December 9, 1994, p. 
A16; "Inferior U.N. or Superior Coalition Force?" opinion. Wall 
Street Journal, May 3, 1995, p. A14; "Beyond the Cold War: Foreign 
Policy in the 21st Century; Alternatives to Negotiating Genocide" 
(with Gregory S. Jones), opinion. Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1995, 
p. A14; "Chirac's Challenge on Bosnia," opinion. Wall Street 
Journal, July 20, 1995, p. A12; "Relentless Diplomacy and Mass 
Murder," opinion. Wall Street Journal, September 5, 1995, p. A14; 
"NATO: Precise Power, Incoherent Goals," opinion. Wall Street 
Journal, October 19, 1995, p. A22; "Magic Tricks Can't Disguise 


This About Bosnia," opinion, Wall Street Journal, November 15, 

1995, p. A20; "Since Bosnia Has Been Reduced to This...," opinion. 
Wall Street Journal, December 12, 1995, p. A20; "The Cold War is 
Over and Over and. . . ," opinion. Wall Street Journal, October 1, 

1996, p. A22; "A Photo-op Foreign Policy," opinion. Wall Street 
Journal, October 23, 1996, p. A22; and "Boris Yeltsin as Abraham 
Lincoln," in Stjepan G. Mestrovic, ed.. The Conceit of Innocence: 
Losing the Conscience of the West in the War Against Bosnia, College 
Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997, pp. 200-207. 

168. See Albert Wohlstetter and Margaret Thatcher, "What 
the West Must Do in Bosnia," an open letter to President William 
J. Clinton, opinion. Wall Street Journal, September 2, 1993, p. A12. 

169. See Albert Wohlstetter and Gregory Jones, "'Breakthrough' 
in North Korea?" opinion. The Wall Street Journal, November 4, 
1994, p. A12. 

170. Quoted by Fialka, "Veteran 'Lone Ranger' Strategist Packs 
Firepower with Cold-Eyed Outlook on Soviet Nuclear Policy," p. 


171. President Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at the Presentation 
Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom," East Room, 
White House, Washington, DC, November 5, 1985, available from 

172. Quoted by Herzog, p. 68. 

173. James Digby and J. J. Martin, "On Not Confusing 
Ourselves: Contributions of the Wohlstetters to U.S. Strategic 
Thought," in Marshall, Martin, and Rowen, On Not Confusing 
Ourselves: Essays on National Security Strategy in Honor of Albert and 
Roberta Wohlstetter, quotes from pp. 5 and 3. 

174. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 
p. 401. 

175. Albert Wohlstetter, No Highway to High Purpose, emphasis 




Commentary: How He Worked 
Henry S. Rowen 

Albert Wohlstetter (whom for brevity's sake I shall refer to 
simply as AW) made large contributions to U.S. national security 
thinking and actions from the 1950s into the 1990s — and arguably 
beyond — through his ideas, his research findings and those of his 
associates, and the activities of those he mentored. This chapter 
focuses on his style of work, the unusual and inventive ways 
in which he addressed problems of policy, and how he applied 
his talents to some of the most urgent and difficult issues of the 
nuclear era. 

We know how things turned out in what came to be known 
as the Cold War, although disputes endure on the correctness of 
various decisions. (One is reminded of Zhou Enlai's answer to 
the question about the French Revolution: "Too soon to tell.") 
The challenges posed at the time were novel and of the utmost 
seriousness. Enormously destructive weapons had suddenly 
appeared, first nuclear fission ones, then even more powerful 
thermonuclear bombs. Key effects of these weapons were poorly 
known for some time, especially radioactive fallout. Although 
it was not a big surprise to the Manhattan Project scientists, the 
first Soviet atomic bomb test of August 29, 1949, was a political 
shock. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist 
Republics (USSR) were also developing novel delivery systems, 
notably long-range ballistic missiles, which when mated with 
nuclear warheads posed unique dangers and new uncertainties. 
Our security establishment was slow to understand adequately 
the military significance of these technological innovations. 
According to Tom Schelling: "I think it took the United States 
at least 2 decades to learn how to think about nuclear weapons 
policy after 1945."^ The phrase "at least" is warranted; arguably, 
we still aren't quite there. 

Throughout his career in strategy, AW worked to improve 
thinking about the role and consequences of nuclear weapons. 
One finding from AW's work, soon acted upon, was the need for 
better protection and control of nuclear forces. The U.S. Air Force 
had asked him and his associates to examine the large overseas 
base-building program for our strategic bomber force. Their 
investigation had consequences not only for that program, but 


also for the basing and operations of the strategic bomber force at 
home — and for our missile forces that were to come, and for much 

AW came to wide attention to those interested in foreign policy, 
especially in nuclear weapons issues, with the publication of his 
article, "The Delicate Balance of Terror" (1959), in Foreign Affairs. 
There, he challenged the prevailing assumption that nuclear war 
was impossible, or had a vanishingly small likelihood, laying out 
reasons why the nuclear balance was precarious and why the 
requirements for deterring such a war were stringent. He soon 
came to be described as an eminent strategist or, more dubiously 
in some quarters, as a "defense intellectual."^ 

AW went on to become a critic of widely held views about the 
"arms race" with the Soviet Union in general, and the "nuclear 
arms race" in particular, writing in the mid-1970s that the facts 
of nuclear arms competition did not fit much of the rhetoric 
about nuclear arms racing. This led to a vigorous disputation in 
print. From AW's perspective, the issues were not that dangerous 
"gaps" existed between American and Russian nuclear offensive 
forces (as American politicians often had claimed in the 1950s), or 
that there was an arms race spiraling out control in the 1960s or 
1970s, but that relevant facts were being ignored and the wrong 
questions were being asked. 

Efforts to understand nuclear weapons and their destructive- 
ness led AW to try to break the pattern that had dominated air 
power from its inception, namely, the indiscriminate "strategic 
bombing" that had caused vast destruction to civilians during 
World War II. Over many decades, he worked to promote 
technologies of precision and control that would make it more 
possible to hit military targets without killing innocent bystanders. 
He saw that advances in technologies of sensing and computation 
could produce vast improvements in the accuracy with which 
munitions could be delivered. This capability began to be used 
near the end of the Vietnam War and was widely displayed 
during the Kosovo operation against Serbia and the two Gulf 
wars. It has transformed air operations. Hard as it might be for 
some people to believe, the concept of destroying military targets 
while sparing civilians is now at the core of American air power 
doctrine. The "Delicate Balance" aside, perhaps this was his most 
important intellectual and practical security contribution. 

Throughout AW's career, a major concern of him and his 
team was the future of Europe, a region seen as the main stake 
in the great power competition. This meant that decisions about 


nuclear forces, both long range and short, needed to be viewed 
with the implications for Europe in mind. At the same time, he 
also pushed our political and military leaders to give more weight 
to the flanks of NATO and pay much more attention to "out of 
area" contingencies — or what he called "lesser excluded cases." 
The 1991 Gulf War and the conflict over Bosnia and Kosovo later 
in the decade dramatically demonstrated the critical importance 
of these sorts of contingencies. 

Another interest from an early date was the spread of the 
nuclear bomb to more countries. It was known from near the 
beginning of the nuclear era that the line between civilian and 
military uses of atomic energy was thin, but this fact was often 
obscured — and still is — in our policy actions. An egregious case 
was the Eisenhower Administration's Atoms for Peace program. By 
actively disseminating civilian nuclear applications, the program 
was engaged in (as the title of AW's 1976 Foreign Policy article 
would later put it) "Spreading the Bomb without Quite Breaking 
the Rules." The U.S. government continues to behave in a wildly 
inconsistent way on this topic. 

These and other accomplishments came from a high 
intelligence used in ways that were at least unusual, and in 
combination arguably unique. Below, I consider key aspects of 
AW's style of work. 


It is especially important, and sometimes very difficult, to 
get objectives right in a policy analysis. A competent analyst who 
works on such a situation will try to identify available alternatives, 
to assess their respective costs and benefits in light of given 
objectives, and recommend a course of action. This is necessary, 
but it is often where intellectual activity stops. 

It is not enough to assume a merely one-sided conflict with 
a potential adversary. Albert Wohlstetter sometimes used the 
term opposed systems to characterize the sort of competitive — 
and interactive — situation in which one actor (for instance, a 
government, a military organization or even a nonstate group) 
may try to do things that at least partially frustrate some key 
objectives and activities of others — and vice versa. The policy 
problem, objectives, and alternatives can look quite different 
when the game, so to speak, is seriously two-sided (or three- or 
four-sided), that is, when the frustrating activities are reciprocal. 


and each actor is both frustrating others while being frustrated in 

Characteristically, AW not only addressed the policy problem 
as it was initially posed. He also undertook a more comprehensive 
inquiry to consider a fuller range of alternatives available to all 
relevant actors, to evaluate not only the means of policy but also 
the ends.* Sometimes this would lead him to reframe the problem 
in a more fundamental way and to invent new options. More 
value, sometimes a great deal more, can be added to the analysis 
if the problem is redefined in a way that stays true to the spirit 
of the original question, but also brings to light more crucial yet 
underappreciated objectives and new ways of achieving them. 

Basing and Operating SAC's Bomber Force in a Competitive 

A crucial issue in the immediate aftermath of World War 
II was what to do about nuclear weapons. Their novelty and 
extraordinary destructiveness made this both urgent and 
difficult. By August 1949 the Soviet Union had the atomic bomb. 
The hydrogen bomb was in the offing, and ballistic missiles were 
being developed. The Red Army was in the middle of Europe. In 
1950 North Korea had attacked the South with Soviet support and 
later that year China had intervened militarily. 

The United States was making jet bombers in large numbers. 
From 1951, the United States built over 2,000 B-47s, a medium- 
range bomber with a roundtrip operating radius of 2,100 miles, 
while the longer-range B-52 bomber, which did not depend on 
overseas bases, was being developed. Aerial refueling as a means 
of extending the range of medium-range bombers without using 
overseas bases was also being developed. 

The problem originally posed to the RAND Corporation by 
the U.S. Air Force's assistant for bases was to look at the far-flung, 
rapidly expanding system of bases of the Strategic Air Command 
(SAC) that were being built in the United Kingdom (UK), Morocco, 
Alaska, and elsewhere, to enable our medium-range bombers in 
wartime to reach the Soviet Union, return, and repeatedly go 
back. However, AW and his team quickly realized a critical yet 
underappreciated aspect of this problem: these planned bases 
could also be reached by Soviet bombers, a potential vulnerability 
made critically serious now that the USSR had the atomic bomb. 


After much study and analysis, AW's team recommended 
stopping the elaborate program to build bases overseas and strictly 
limiting their use (specifically, any overseas bases surviving an 
enemy attack) to austere refueling points for SAC's medium- 
range bomber aircraft.^ By the end of 1955, the U.S. Air Force had 
accepted and begun implementing this recommendation. 

Protecting Our Power to Strike Back Became a Crucial 

Attention then turned to the situation of our force at home. It 
was assumed to be safe, but an investigation into the possibility of 
a Soviet sneak attack on the small number of continental bases on 
which the strategic force was located made that assumption look 
untenable. AW and his team completed an initial report on this 
issue.* As Philip Taubman would write in Secret Empire: Eisenhower, 
the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage (2003): 
"The report, published on April 15, 1953, stunned Gardner [Special 
Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force] and other officials in 
Washington. . . . The lightly defended SAC bases . . . were ideal 
targets for atomic attack." Taubman would add: "The import was 
clear and breathtaking: For the first time in its history, the United 
States was vulnerable to a crippling attack from overseas, and 
would find it difficult, if not impossible, to retaliate after being 

Over the next 3 years, AW and his team worked to understand 
the issues raised by SAC's potential vulnerabilities on the 
continental United States, and to identify — and also invent and 
design— ways to mitigate these vulnerabilities. This work had 
a large and rapid impact on U.S. decisions regarding nuclear 

A key idea emerging was that relative risk could dominate 
decisions in certain situations rather than the widely assumed 
perception of absolute risk. To put it another way, in extreme 
circumstances it could actually look less risky for decisionmakers 
to use nuclear weapons than not to use them. This argument was 
novel — and contested — but from it came the idea of protecting 
our power to strike back after a nuclear attack in order to affect the 
way a potential nuclear aggressor would view the relative risks of 
a first strike. This concept soon became an essential aspect of the 
U.S. military posture.* 

More broadly, AW argued that the requirements for estab- 
lishing a credible and safe nuclear deterrent were stringent and 


not automatic. There were several reasons for this. One was the 
possibility of operational accidents (compare the August 28, 2007, 
loading of nuclear-armed missiles on a U.S. Air Force bomber by 
mistake and its subsequent flight of several thousand miles) or 
misjudgements higher in the chain of command. 

A second reason was that whatever U.S. decisionmakers 
might believe about nuclear weapons and their use, Soviet 
decisionmakers might have a different set of beliefs. In fact, the 
doctrine of nuclear warfighting to win a major conflict had a 
strong hold there (the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, known 
also as SALT, notwithstanding) until well into the 1980s, long 
after U.S. authorities had come to realize nuclear warfighting's 
futility as a war -winning strategy.' 

The third stemmed from the perceived vulnerability of 
Western Europe. Although the U.S. might be able to deter a Soviet 
preclusive attack against its nuclear-armed strategic forces, it was 
far from clear that such deterrence would necessarily extend to 
other forms of potential Soviet aggression. The Red Army was 
in Europe's center and was judged to be stronger than NATO's 
forces.^" Our putative atomic superiority — no longer monopoly — 
was widely seen in American officialdom as the chief guarantor 
of Europe's security. But what did this mean? The answer given 
by Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1954 was 
that the United States would respond to military provocation "at 
places and with means of our own choosing." He also said, "Local 
defense must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive 
retaliatory power." This idea, which came to be known as the 
doctrine of "massive retaliation," implied using nuclear weapons 
first, yet it was also widely held in the United States, including by 
high officials, that nuclear weapons were unusable because of the 
vast devastation that would result. These conflicting views posed 
a difficulty that long persisted. ^^ 

In the late 1950s, a then little-known professor at Harvard, 
Henry Kissinger, argued that it might be possible to fight a 
limited nuclear war in Europe, limited in the sense that it would 
not escalate to attacks on U.S. or Soviet territory. ^^ This argument 
did not have much appeal in Europe, the putative war zone, 
nor as it turned out in Washington. AW addressed this topic in 
"The Delicate Balance of Terror" (the relevant passage of which 
deserves quoting here because, in later disputes over the nuclear 
"arms race," he was sometimes charged with believing in limited 
nuclear war as a policy goal): 


Whether or not nuclear weapons favor the West in lim- 
ited war, there still remains the question of whether such 
limitations could be made stable. ... It remains to be 
seen whether there are any equilibrium points between 
the use of conventional and all-out weapons. In fact the 
emphasis on the gradualness of the graduated deterrents 
may be misplaced. The important thing would be to find 
some discontinuities if these steps are not to lead too 
smoothly to general war. Nuclear limited war, simply 
because of the extreme swiftness and unpredictability of 
its moves, the necessity of delegating authority to local 
commanders, and the possibility of sharp and sudden 
desperate reversals of fortune, would put the greatest 
strain on the deterrent to all-out thermonuclear war. 

AW's skepticism about limited nuclear war as a policy was 
consistent with the crucial aim of controlling such forces to prevent 
inadvertent use by us, and to deal with first use of nuclear 
weapons by the Soviet Union, or later China, or any other nation 
with them. His answer to the Eisenhower/ Dulles doctrine of "first 
use" by us was that the West needed to enable NATO to defend 
Europe with conventional forces. (However, AW did not clearly 
articulate a "no-first use" policy, and was later chastised for this.) 
The discriminate use of force, especially through a distinction 
between military forces to be attacked and civilian noncombatants 
to be avoided, became a consistent theme in his work from the 
late 1950s onward. 


An important aspect of Albert Wohlstetter's style is shown in 
the name he chose for the research organization that he created: 
Pan Heuristics, or learning about all things. The excessively 
ambitious "pan" part of the name was mitigated by "heuristics," 
an informal approach to solving problems in the spirit of being 
roughly right rather than being precisely wrong. The idea of "pan 
heuristics" speaks to AW's strong commitment to gathering and 
understanding as much data relevant to a policy problem as he 

Among people who became well known as strategists, AW 
was probably unique in having industrial experience. During 


World War II, he worked in quality control and management at 
a factory manufacturing power-generation equipment for Allied 
field communications, and after the war, in prefabricated housing 
design and mass-production. This trained him to pay careful 
attention to operations and technical data. 

In a November 1968 letter to the distinguished British military 
historian Michael Howard, AW had the following to say about his 
work style in the aforementioned Base Study and Vulnerability 

For two years, before issuing a summary report and ex- 
posing the results to the scrutiny of experienced officers 
in the Air Staff, SAC and other relevant field commands, 
and for three years before issuing the final report, we 
looked systematically and in great detail at the problem 
of bringing bombs, bombers, bomber crews and tanker 
aircraft together with equipment in combat-ready con- 
dition and getting bombers to targets and back along 
routes that minimized their exposure to defenses. That 
included problems of equipment reliability, radar warn- 
ing, communications and control, and above all logistics. 
We examined the joint effects of these many factors on 
"the costs of extending bomber radius; on how the en- 
emy may deploy his defenses, and the numbers of our 
bombers lost to enemy fighters; on logistics costs; and 
on base vulnerability and our probable loss of bombers 
on the ground." We did not begin with any theory about 
the vulnerability of SAC. The second-strike theory of de- 
terrence grew out of this empirical study; we didn't start 
with it. 

If the study said nothing that was new, it would hardly 
have received such attention. If it had been unsound, it 
could not have survived the extraordinarily widespread 
and detailed scrutiny it was given by the responsible 
military men whose work — and lives — it affected." 

This background helps to show why AW was skeptical about the 
significance of claimed "bomber gaps" (assertions of American 
vulnerability in the mid-1950s made on the grounds that the 
United States allegedly had fallen behind the USSR in the 
numbers of bombers) or "missile gaps" (a similar assertion made. 


among others, by presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy 
concerning intercontinental ballistic missiles). 

AW's view was that such "gap" claims — which turned out 
to be false — missed the point: that it was not the "bean count" 
of such weapons in peacetime that mattered most, but what the 
balance of capabilities would look like after one side or the other 
had struck first. In short, one needed to consider not just raw 
numbers, but also the potential interactions of the two sides. This 
required, in part, doing as best one could to look at relevant data, 
recognizing that not all of it was accessible. 

Learning from Many Disciplines: RAND in the 1950s. 

AW felt a need to learn the basics about many fields relevant 
to the topics on which he was working — and he had the talent 
and determination to do so. The RAND Corporation of the 1950s 
and 1960s was an ideal environment for doing this. It had a broad 
mandate to explore topics that fit under the heading of national 
security, thanks to the wisdom of the U.S. Air Force. RAND's first 
president, Frank Collbohm, and his management team assembled 
talents in many fields: e.g., mathematics, physics, engineering, 
and the social sciences. RAND people did pioneering work on 
satellite reconnaissance, telecommunications, civil defense, game 
theory, applications of cost-benefit analysis, finance, and history. 
Two future Nobel laureates in economics, William Sharpe and 
Harry Markowitz, were members of the RAND staff when they 
did the work for which they were later honored. Many excellent 
scientists, physical and social, and mathematicians came as 
visitors for varying periods.^* 

From this extraordinarily favorable research environment, 
AW gained access to a wealth of talent in many fields — talent 
that for the most part was willing to work across disciplines 
on large, complex questions. As Andrew Marshall (who made 
important contributions to strategic thinking at RAND, and who 
has served for many years as the Director of the Pentagon's Office 
of Net Assessment) would later remark: "While the group of real 
strategists at RAND probably never numbered more than about 
25 people, the overall quality, in sheer intelligence and intellectual 
breadth, is simply astonishing."^' 

From Roberta Wohlstetter, who worked as a historian in 
RAND's social sciences division, AW got help on many matters, 
including those related to organizational and psychological 


aspects of behavior. It is impossible for someone outside of the 
family to know how much of what AW accomplished was due to 
her direct or indirect help. Roberta herself was an accomplished 
scholar whose Bancroft Prize-winning Pearl Harbor: Warning 
and Decision (1962) will long be cited as perhaps the best book 
ever written on military intelligence. Her 1976 study. The Buddha 
Smiles: Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb, showed 
how India had exploited civil nuclear cooperation from the United 
States and Canada to make its bomb. (There was a flair for book 
and article titles in that family.) Among her many talents was 
that of analyzing the character and motivations of leaders. The 
husband-wife team also had several joint publications on Cuba, 
for instance. 

On the occasion of awarding the Presidential Medal of 
Freedom to the Wohlstetters, President Reagan spoke of Roberta's 
intimate personal and professional partnership with AW: 

I daresay that she has frankly enjoyed posing the same 
penetrating questions to her husband that she has to the 
intellectual and political leaders of the country. And that 
is certainly one explanation for the clarity and persua- 
siveness of his own voluminous words on strategy, poli- 
tics, and world affairs.^* 

Experts Needed, but Not as Seers. 

AW learned much from specialists in many fields. He saw 
large decisions affecting war and the conduct of operations as 
depending not only on political insights, but also on inputs from 
such experts. But he was wary of specialists who opined with an 
air of authority on topics outside of their expertise when they had 
not seriously worked on these topics. 

Indeed, there were a number of physicists who knew about 
the confined topic of nuclear weapons and their effects, but who 
did not hesitate to pronounce on matters related to strategic 
nuclear force operations without having carefully studied these 
operations, and without any particular claims of knowledge as 
to the aims and strategy of Soviet leaders. He described such 
experts, especially those who distilled nuclear-age policy choices 
to decisions between living in "One World or None," as feeling: 


charged with a prodigious mission and a great moral ur- 
gency. Spurred by an apocalyptic vision of world annihi- 
lation, they urge a drastic transformation in the conduct 
of world affairs in the immediate future. They have been 
passionately sure that the choices are stark and clear: an- 
nihilation on the one hand or a paradise on earth. ^^ 

He continued: 

This vision of the responsibility of the scientists, "a 
greater responsibility than is pressing on any other body 
of men," puts him in a very different role from the sci- 
entist as technologist or the scientist dealing by tentative 
and empirical methods with broader questions or cardi- 
nal choices. It is fortified ... by the related notion of the 
scientist as specially endowed — a seer or prophet. 

. 18 

He also pointed to the rapid switch in views on fundamentals 
by some distinguished scientists. Advocates of building active 
defenses and fallout shelters against nuclear attack soon saw 
these things as fueling the arms race. Of course, he saw nothing 
wrong in principle with people changing their views. (He might 
have quoted, but did not. Lord Keynes: "When the facts change I 
change my views; what do you do. Sir"?) But these changes raised 
questions about their foresight, sometimes right and sometimes 
wrong. As a group, these scientists were not seers. 

The scientist and novelist Sir Charles Percy Snow addressed 
the difficulty of communications between specialists in the 
physical sciences and the humanities in his Godkin Lecture, "The 
Two Cultures."" (Sir Charles could have included the social 
sciences as well.) Snow had claimed that the cardinal choices 
can be fully understood only by scientists, even though in "legal 
form" these choices are made by non-scientists exposed to advice 
of only a few experts. 

AW was critical of Snow's account of how Britain's wartime 
leaders made decisions, countering that the reality was a good deal 
more complex, filled with more salient participants than Snow 
had allowed. More important, AW maintained that although 
civilian political leaders might lack expertise, they could be made 
to understand what was at stake in such cardinal choices. 



Only in a limited sense is the pubic interest served by finding 
the best among established choices. It is sometimes better to 
invent or design new ones. This does not come naturally to many 
people who are otherwise highly competent. It requires a certain 
mindset, akin to that of an inventor or an architect. AW had such 
a mentality. 

Controlling Forces: Failing Safe. 

Few — if any — topics since we have had nuclear weapons have 
been more important than the rules for launching them. In their 
1956 study, Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 1950's and 
1960's (R-290), AW and his colleagues recognized that ambiguous 
warning signals raised two risks for the Strategic Air Command: 
false alarm, which could lead to accidental or unauthorized uses 
of nuclear weapons, and false assurance, which could leave U.S. 
strategic forces vulnerable in the event of an actual attack. 

To deal with these related risks, AW's team invented and 
then recommended a "Fail-Safe" operating procedure (later 
called "Positive Control") by which SAC, when confronted with 
ambiguous warning of a potential attack, would evacuate and 
protectively scramble its nuclear-armed bomber aircraft without 
actually committing them to combat — and without risking war by 
mistake. R-290 explained: 

By a fail-safe procedure we mean one in which the bomb- 
ers will return to base after reaching a pre-designated 
point en route — unless they receive an order to contin- 
ue. (Without a fail-safe procedure, this initial decision 
comes close to being the final decision; without recall it 
is the final decision.)^" 

The alternative to "Fail-Safe" was known as "Recall," in which 
combat-ready bombers would not only take off based on (possibly 
mistaken) warning, but also make their way to pre-designated 
targets. The only way to stop such bombers from attacking their 
targets would be, as this procedure's name suggests, to recall 
them with explicit communication. But "Recall" was fraught with 
dangers. AW would later recollect having said in a briefing to the 
Strategic Air Command, "There aren't any good ways of starting 
World War III, but that would surely be one of the worst. "^^ 


In Autumn 1957, SAC conducted a test called FRESH 
APPROACH, which simulated the recall of the alert force by radio 
(i.e., using a "fail un-safe" procedure). The after-action report was 

... of the ten airborne alert aircraft, one experienced HF 
[high frequency radio frequency] failure and one failed 
to monitor HF frequencies as briefed. The eight remain- 
ing aircraft . . . did not receive the test message on HF. All 
ten aircraft received UHF contact from the 9th Bombard- 
ment Wing command post, [but] Mountain Home tower 
and McChord tower were not received. All UHF mes- 
sages received from the 9th Bombardment Wing were 
after the aircraft had struck the target and were inbound to 
the local area [emphasis added].^^ 

SAC instituted Fail-Safe by the Spring of 1958. 

It is worth noting that when the movie Fail Safe (1964) needed 
drama, it found it by showing the opposite of "Positive Control," 
the possible consequence of having a "fail-dangerous" recall 
procedure — the procedure in place before the change in 1958 
designed and recommended by the AW team. This topic, like 
several others dealt with by AW and team, has current salience. 
For example, have India and Pakistan introduced equivalent fail- 
safe procedures in their nuclear forces?^^ 

Challenge of Protecting Missiles, as well as Command, 
Control, and Communications. 

By the mid-1950s it was becoming evident that any place in the 
United States could soon be reached by intercontinental ballistic 
missiles, then under development in both the Soviet Union and 
the United States. They could arrive with little warning and with 
no possibility then of interception. The main response of SAC 
to this danger was to keep some aircraft on a high state of alert, 
ready for quick takeoff or even aloft, in a crisis. These solutions 
had their problems because early warning was uncertain and 
keeping bombers aloft for long periods was costly. But a much 
more difficult question was how to base our own ICBMs. The 
first generation of ICBMs, Atlas and Titan missiles, were large, 
fragile, exposed (think of the space vehicles at the Kennedy Space 
Center), and vulnerable to nuclear weapons detonated even some 
miles away. 


AW and his team sought to invent and design new ways 
to make U.S. strategic forces safe from missile attack. As part 
of their investigation into fixing the vulnerability of bombers 
on their bases in the United States, thought had been given to 
blast-resistant shelters. The first generation of enemy ICBMs 
was expected to be inaccurate, which meant that blast shelters, 
in principle, might provide adequate protection against expected 
blast effects. However, the prevailing view of civil engineering 
experts was discouraging: only 30-40 pounds per square inch 
(p.s.i.) of resistance to peak overpressure (that is, to the blast 
effects of a nuclear explosion) was thought to be feasible, a level 
short of adequacy, and even this would be costly. 

This perceived shortfall led AW to inquire more deeply into 
what was known about the blast effects of nuclear weapons 
and the technology of blast-resistant structures. He got Paul 
Weidlinger, a brilliant structural engineer whom he had met 
in the 1940s, interested in this topic. Weidlinger soon came up 
with a design that could withstand peak overpressures an order 
of magnitude greater than most had thought possible. It turned 
out that while these improved blast-resistant structures could 
not be cost-effectively applied to aircraft or the first generation 
of large and liquid-fueled missiles, they could be applied to the 
much smaller and tougher Minuteman missiles by basing them 
underground in what later became known as "silos. "^* 

Weidlinger then came up with designs for underground silo 
structures that could withstand overpressures approaching 1,000 
p.s.i., and later extended blast resistance to even higher levels. 
After the skepticism of the extant authorities on this topic was 
overcome, Weidlinger's design approach became the solution. It 
was not expected to last forever because missiles would become 
more and more accurate, but it was good solution for many 
decades (and indeed is still in use). 

To take another important example, a major invention came 
out of a question that AW had asked of a RAND engineer named 
Paul Baran: "What would happen if the key switching centers of 
AT&T were destroyed?" Baran's answer: The total collapse of our 
national communications system. 

Inquiries to remedy this problem led Baran in 1964 to invent 
the concepts of "hot-potato routing" (decentralized and distrib- 
uted communications systems) and segmenting data into "message 
blocks" (today, packet-switching networks), two concepts that 
could be used to design a more robust, survivable command. 


control, and communications system less prone to disruption and 
degradation. Baran's concepts provided the impetus for major 
advances in telecommunications — and contributed to what would 
become the Internet. 

Persistent Efforts in Persuasion: Communicating the Analysis 
and Design's Results. 

It was not AW's style to write a report or an article and sim- 
ply put it in the mail. If the project was worth doing, it was worth 
a marketing effort. He took great pains to learn about the views 
and positions of the decisionmakers involved, and to design argu- 
ments that would be most effective. This meant spending a lot of 
time on the road, especially in Washington, but also at the Stra- 
tegic Air Command's headquarters in Omaha, NATO headquar- 
ters, and elsewhere. To AW, these were not simply "briefings." 
For one thing, they were usually not brief; for another, these were 
two-way exchanges, for the presenters themselves learned much 
from such sessions. 

AW's writings were closely reasoned, sometimes eloquent, 
complete with salient data. But they were not quick and easy reads. 
Nor was he a person of few words. Training in mathematical logic 
produced precision in expression, but sometimes a denseness that 
needed parsing. Here, too, Roberta must have been a big help. 


The Ballistic Missile Defense Dispute. 

Albert Wohlstetter' s works often evoked vigorous responses — 
some highly positive, some constructive, some hugely critical, 
and some scurrilous. ^^ Consider the case of the proposed active 
defense against ballistic missiles (BMD) in behalf of which AW 
became an advocate. He had a belief that technically it could be 
made to work in certain situations. He certainly found the "arms 
race" arguments of many of the opponents of BMD objectionable. 
Why, in principle, should one object to being able to defend 
oneself against attack? 

In 1969, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a debate 
on the pros and cons of the Safeguard ballistic missile defense 
system. The purpose of Safeguard was to protect Minuteman 
missiles from nuclear attack, and the debate centered on how well 


such a defense might perforin. AW, Paul Nitze, John Foster, and 
others gave detailed arguments as to why it was a good idea, and 
their opponents, such as George Rathjens and Jerome Wiesner, as 
to why it was not. 

What turned out to be remarkable about this exchange was 
not so much its content, but the fact that the Operation Research 
Society of America (ORSA), at AW's request, did a study of the 
professionalism of his opponents' contributions. Three faculty 
members from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 
who had testified at the Senate hearings, including MIT' s president, 
objected to the standing and capacity of ORSA to conduct such an 
investigation. ORSA went ahead anyway. It found faults on both 
sides of the debate, but singled out for criticism the testimony of 
the opponents, including those from MIT. In striking contrast, the 
report found "no significant defects" in AW's testimony, and cited 
one paper that he had submitted to the Senate Armed Services 
Committee as "a model for the professional and constructive 
conduct of a debate over important and technical issues. "^'^ 

AW won this debate on points, but was he right? At the time, 
AW's desire to establish the correctness of the principle that 
defending oneself is good seems to have overcome his usually 
sound technical and economic sense. As observed above, one 
might object to a specific program on grounds of inadequate 
cost-effectiveness. Here, ballistic missile defenses have struggled 
against technologically competent attackers in which the offense 
can adopt countermeasures (e.g., multiple independently tar- 
getable reentry vehicles, decoys) to negate them. The United States 
has had active defense programs under development for 50 years 
and has deployed some systems (one Safeguard site in North 
Dakota, soon demolished) without achieving notable confidence 
that the substantial expenditures have been worthwhile. We are 
still trying, now with the goal of defending against less technically 
advanced missiles from Iran or North Korea. 

The Arms Race Dispute. 

AW set off a fierce debate by questioning the existence of 
a spiraling nuclear "arms race" in two articles published in the 
mid-1970s. ^^ Here is a small sample of the views to which AW 
responded: from John Newhouse, "America's forces apparently 
served as both model and catalyst for the Russians"; from 
journalist Leslie Gelb, "The common practice, as I think we all 
know, has been to exaggerate and over dramatize"; from Jerome 


Wiesner, president of MIT and former science adviser to President 
Kennedy, the arms race makes "an ever-increasing likelihood of 
war so disastrous that civilization, if not man himself, will be 
eradicated"; from nuclear physicist Herbert York, who had served 
on the Manhattan Project and as the first director of the Livermore 
National Laboratory, we should "slow down the rate of weapons 
innovation, and hence reduce the frequency of introduction of 
ever more complex and threatening weapons"; from chemists 
George Kistiakowsky, a leading Manhattan Project participant, 
and MIT's George Rathjens, "any understanding that slowed the 
rate of development and change of strategic systems would have 
an effect in the right direction." In short, the dangers perceived by 
the "arms race theorists" (as AW called them) were not merely — 
or only — the waste of resources in adding to the nuclear stockpile, 
but catastrophe. 

AW asked exactly what was going on in the putative "arms 
race." He began by dissecting the term: 

When we talk of "arms" are we referring to the total 
budget spent on strategic forces? The number of stra- 
tegic vehicles or launchers? The number of weapons? 
The total explosive energy that could be released by all 
strategic weapons? The aggregate destructive area of 
these weapons? Or are we concerned about qualitative 
change — that is alterations in unit performance charac- 
teristics — the speed of an aircraft or missile, its accuracy, 
the blast resistance of its silo, the concealability of its 
launch point, the scale and sharpness of optical photos 
or other sensitive devices, the controllability of a weap- 
on and its resistance to accidental or unauthorized use? 
When we talk of a "race" what do we imply about the 
rate at which the race is run, about the ostensible goal of 
the contest, about how the "race" is generated, about the 
nature of the interaction among strategic adversaries?^* 

Whatever arms racing was about, AW objected to the use of 
such words as "explosive," "spiraling," or "uncontrolled" to 
characterize the U.S.-USSR strategic "competition" (his preferred 
word) in nuclear arms. 

To illustrate his point, AW compared forecasts over time, and 
also with reality as we gradually came to understand it, of Soviet 
ICBMs, submarine-launched missiles, and bombers. He found 
indicators on the American side mostly to have peaked in the late 


1950s and early 1960s, and then to have declined to the early 1970s. 
Given increases in these categories on the Soviet side during those 
years of U.S. decline, he asserted that we were not "racing" them. 
Moreover, he maintained that some of the technical advances had 
helped to stabilize the nuclear balance: the hardening of silos, 
permissive action links, technology that enabled warheads — and 
so missiles — to be smaller, hence mobile, hence safer from attack 
(under the sea or, in the Soviet case, mobile on land); and increases 
in accuracy, along with smaller missiles, that reduced potential 
collateral damage to civilians. Advances in technology that made 
for a more stable relationship were good. 

AW agreed that for the United States to have more aircraft 
or missiles simply because the Soviets were making more of 
them, or were assumed to have this intention, was a bad idea. 
However, he argued that his opponents ignored crucial aspects 
of the strategic competition by assuming that a simple action- 
reaction process was at work, or that the Soviet Union was aiming 
for a small "minimum deterrent" force. Most fundamentally, he 
disagreed that nuclear war was impossible simply because many 
extremely destructive weapons existed, and worried that the 
nuclear postures proposed by his opponents would foreclose the 
possibility of limiting the scope of the conflict if war should break 

These articles garnered support and criticism. One criticism 
was that he had chosen dates to favor his argument.^' Among the 
critics, a phrase that caught on was supplied by the title of former 
arms control agency official Paul Warnke's rejoinder: "Apes on a 
Treadmill." It evoked the image of mindless building of nuclear 
forces by both sides, something that could happen only if leaders 
were mistakenly led to believe that they could gain an advantage 
over nuclear-armed opponents. 

This view led to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction 
(dubbed "MAD" by Donald Brennan), that since only a few 
nuclear weapons delivered on a city could produce vast damage, 
why, then, buy more than the number needed to assure that 
result? Arthur Steiner, a colleague of AW, identified it with two 
propositions: (1) Don't attack weapons; aim at people; and (2) 
Don't defend against the adversary's weapons.^" Motivations 
for proposition (1) might be, don't attack his weapons because that 
would be destabilizing and would lead to an arms race; or alternatively, 
don't attack weapons because it can't be done successfully. Motivations 


for proposition (2) might be, don't defend because it's a had idea; or 
alternatively, don't defend because although it might he desirable it isn't 
feasible. A large problem left inadequately addressed by MAD, and 
often ignored by AW's critics, was how to defend Europe, which 
was believed to be vulnerable to Warsaw Pact conventional attack. 
Our policy was to use nuclear weapons first there if such an attack 
was succeeding. In contrast, AW held that "most of those who 
rely on tactical nuclear weapons as a substitute for disparities in 
conventional forces have in general presupposed a cooperative 
Soviet attacker, one who did not use atomic weapons himself."^^ 
Moreover, he added: 

. . . nuclear limited war, simply because of the extreme 
swiftness and unpredictability of its moves, the necessi- 
ty of delegating authority to local commanders, and the 
possibility of sharp and sudden desperate reversals of 
fortune, would put the greatest strain on the deterrent to 
all-out thermonuclear war. For this reason I believe that 
it would be appropriate to emphasize the importance of 
expanding a conventional capability realistically and, 
in particular, research and development in non-nuclear 
modes of warfare. ^^ 

This last sentence foreshadowed his long and successful campaign 
to improve greatly the effectiveness of conventional airpower. 

Civil vs. Military Uses of Nuclear Energy: 
Revealing a Distinction without Much Difference. 

It should not surprise that a logician would be skilled at 
parsing distinctions. One was the purported distinction between 
civilian and military uses of atomic energy. This was a highly 
misleading distinction as dealt with politically. It is at the heart of 
the international proliferation problem. Although the influential 
Acheson-Lilienthal Report of 1946 on the potential and the 
dangers of nuclear technology was initially optimistic about the 
possibility of making civilian nuclear fuel hard to use in bombs, 
its authors quickly saw the dangers and proposed that all nuclear 
enterprises be run by an international authority. ^^ The Eisenhower 
Administration blurred the distinction between civil and military 
uses of nuclear energy with Atoms for Peace, a program which 


accelerated the distribution of weapons-relevant civil nuclear 
technology and know-how widely throughout the world. 

The economic benefits have turned out to be modest so 
far, but Atoms for Peace advanced the ability of many countries 
to make the bomb on short notice by training people in nuclear 
science and technology and giving them experience in handling 
fissionable materials. Nuclear electric power, the main civilian 
application, requires fissile material as a fuel, or yields it as a 
by-product of the reaction process, or both. For various reasons 
having to do with politics, both domestic and foreign, most of 
the countries able to make the bomb on short notice — by now a 
large number — have chosen not to do so. But as the cases of India 
(written about perceptively by Roberta), Pakistan, North Korea 
and (prospectively) Iran show, civilian applications can be used to 
advance military ones. With Atoms for Peace, the U.S. Government 
and others tried to make a distinction where there was not much 
of a difference. His aforementioned 1976 article on "Spreading 
the Bomb without Quite Breaking the Rules" described efforts by 
policymakers to make such unrealistic distinctions. 

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), signed in 1968, 
incorporates the manifest tensions, not to say confusions, on 
this topic. It says that nuclear explosives will not be transferred 
(Articles I and II), that safeguards will be accepted (Article III), 
that all countries have an inalienable right to nuclear energy for 
peaceful purposes in accordance with Articles I and II (Article 
IV, paragraph 1), that nuclear technologies be shared (Article 
IV, paragraph 2), and that all parties work towards nuclear 
disarmament (Article VI). Article IV opened the door to acquiring 
weapons-related capacities, and three countries are known to 
have gone through it and violated their safeguards agreements: 
Iraq in the period leading up to the first Gulf War, North Korea, 
and Iran. Several that made the bomb had not signed the NPT: 
India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Africa (which signed the NPT 
after it had dismantled its bomb program). 

When AW and his associates examined the problems posed 
by civil nuclear energy's military potential in the 1970s, those 
problems were not as evident as they are today. This work 
highlighted matters that have become of great public concern in 
the past decade. Inconsistencies abound. For instance, AW and his 
associates noted that a major mission of the International Atomic 
Energy Agency was to market nuclear energy around the world, 
notably to developing countries. To this day, the IAEA still refers 


to itself, with no apparent sense of irony, as the "Atoms for Peace 

It cannot be said that the behavior of governments has greatly 
improved in this arena. 

The Need to Use Power Discriminately: The Moral Dimension. 

A theme that emerged in AW's work from an early point 
was how to use military power more effectively against military 
forces and avoid unintended harm to civilians.^* There were both 
utilitarian and moral arguments for this. With nuclear weapons, 
this was a challenge and, to some people, an oxymoron in the sense 
that any use of nuclear weapons, no matter how limited in scope, 
might quickly escalate and produce a holocaust. The predominant 
view was that anything that would mitigate the destructiveness 
of nuclear weapons would suggest that they could be rationally 

The question of objectives was addressed by the American 
Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Letter on War and Peace in 1983.^^ AW 
commented on this letter in "Bishops, Statesmen, and Other 
Strategists on the Bombing of Innocents" (1983), a magisterial 
review of central issues of nuclear strategy. He wrote: 

By revising many times in public their pastoral let- 
ter on war and peace, American Catholic bishops have 
dramatized the moral issues which statesmen, using 
empty threats to end the world, neglect or evade. For 
the bishops stand in a long moral tradition which con- 
demns the threat to destroy innocents as well as their 
actual destruction. They try but do not escape reliance 
on threatening bystanders. . . . The letter offers a unique 
opportunity to examine the moral, political, and military 
issues together, and to show that . . . threatening to bomb 
innocents is not part of the nature of things. Nor has it 
been, as is now widely claimed, an essential of deter- 
rence from the beginning. Nor is it the inevitable result 
of "modern technology."^'' 

He continued: 

The bishops have been sending a message to strategists 
in Western foreign-policy establishments — and to strate- 
gists in the Western anti-nuclear counter-establishments. 


It seems unequivocal: "Under no circumstances may nu- 
clear weapons or other instruments of mass slaughter be 
used for the purpose of destroying population centers or 
other predominantly civilian targets." Though that only 
restates an exemplary part of Vatican II two decades ear- 
lier, it is far from commonplace. Nonetheless it should 
be obvious to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In- 
formed realists in foreign-policy establishments as well 
as pacifists should oppose aiming to kill bystanders with 
nuclear or conventional weapons: indiscriminate West- 
ern threats paralyze the West, not the East. We have ur- 
gent political and military as well as moral grounds for 
improving our ability to answer an attack on Western 
military forces with less unintended killing, not to men- 
tion deliberate mass slaughter. ^^ 

AW then criticized the bishops for adopting the position that it 
was acceptable for us to have these weapons but never to use 

Having observed long ago that not even Genghis Khan 
avoided combatants in order to focus solely on destroy- 
ing noncombatants, I was grateful, on a first look at this 
issue in the evolving pastoral letter, to find the bishops 
on the side of the angels. Unfortunately, a closer read- 
ing suggested that they were also on the other side. For, 
while they sometimes say that we should not threaten to 
destroy civilians, they say too that we may continue to 
maintain nuclear weapons — and so implicitly threaten 
their use as a deterrent — while moving toward perma- 
nent verifiable nuclear and general disarmament; yet we 
may not meanwhile plan to he able to fight a nuclear war even 
in response to a nuclear attack [emphasis original]. 

Before that distant millennial day when all the world 
disarms totally, verifiably, and irrevocably — at least in 
nuclear weapons — if we should not intend to attack non- 
combatants, as the letter says, what alternative is there to 
deter nuclear attack or coercion? Plainly only to be able 
to aim at the combatants attacking us, or at their equip- 
ment, facilities, or direct sources of combat supply. That, 
however, is what is meant by planning to be able to fight 
a nuclear war — which the letter rejects.^* 


Responses were abundant and mixed. It evoked praise by such 
prominent people as Samuel Huntington, Aaron Wildavsky, and 
Brent Scowcroft (on occasion an AW target). Among the critics 
was the political scientist, Bruce Russett, who had been an adviser 
to the bishops and who wrote that AW had distorted the bishops' 
position, and that the final version of their letter had dropped 
mention of non-use under all circumstances. Russett added he 
wished that AW had "acknowledged the desirability of a no-first 
use posture" (emphasis added) as being consistent with the views 
expressed in the article. 


AW examined the history of strategic bombing, an undertak- 
ing of great imprecision such that if the target were in cities most 
bombs would miss it and hit civilians. This inevitable inaccuracy 
during World War II had led to a policy of deliberately target- 
ing civilians, with the result that enormous destruction was done, 
e.g., Tokyo, Hamburg, and Dresden. Obviously, the destruction 
would be enormously greater with nuclear weapons aimed at 
civilians. AW thought planning based on MAD targeting was 
wrong on both utilitarian and moral grounds. 

The alternative path that AW first suggested was a combina- 
tion of making much lower-yield nuclear bombs and delivering 
them with greater accuracy against solely military targets. He ob- 
served that the thermonuclear process (as distinguished from the 
fission one), contrary to the initial impression that it would only 
enable bomb yields to be horrendously large, would actually per- 
mit bombs with much smaller weights and yields to be made. 

This combination never found enough support to be carried 
out seriously, but a crucial extension of AWs idea did, one that 
he worked on for many years. It was that advances in computing 
and sensors might make it possible to destroy discrete targets with 
non-nuclear weapons. As it turned out, several technologies made 
this possible, as demonstrated in the First Gulf War (recall the im- 
age of a cruise missile going down a boulevard in Baghdad and 
turning to hit the defense ministry). Highly precise weapons were 
then used against Serbia in 1999 and Iraq again in 2003. Of course, 
the right targets had to be designated. We could now precisely hit 


the wrong place, as in the bombing of the al Firdos air raid shelter 
in Baghdad in 1991, or of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. 

Striking evidence of official acceptance of AW's ideas on 
discriminate deterrence came in a Defense Department briefing 
on March 5, 2003, 2 weeks before the invasion of Iraq, about our 
"military practices and procedures to minimize casualties to non- 
combatants during military operations."^' Such a public statement 
about attack criteria in a war about to occur was extraordinary; its 
substance was the opposite of the bombing goal against Germany 
and Japan in World War II. This was the message: 

For each military target, the potential for collateral 
damage is reviewed and a decision made regarding: 

■ Targets likely to result in noncombatant casualties 

■ Targets likely to result in damage to noncombatant 


■ Targets that affect protected sites; 

■ Targets that serve both a military and civilian pur- 

pose; and 

■ Targets in close proximity to known human 


The briefing added that the U.S. military would seek to reduce 
collateral damage by using smaller weapons, shifting aim points 
or the time attack to periods of low occupancy, as well as by dis- 
persing of leaflets and of radio broadcasts telling people to stay 
away from some places. That said, the Pentagon briefing also con- 
ceded the inevitability of unintended casualties caused by techni- 
cal malfunctions, human error, and the fog of war. 

No doubt, there were cynics about this announcement, but 
the ensuing air campaign showed that it was largely carried 
out according to these principles. AW's long campaign to move 
the United States away from indiscriminate and uncontrollable 
military technologies had shown results. 

"Never Eat an Unworthy Calorie" and Other Passions. 

A recent book describes Albert Wohlstetter as "flamboyant 
and eccentric."*^ Rather, he had standards, such as great attentive- 
ness to food and wine. Here, his tendency towards excellence was 
defended with the statement, "Never eat an unworthy calorie." 


His passion toward work and life was a quality to be emulated. 

Flamboyant he was not. But he did stand out in a crowd, es- 
pecially in later years when he had a beard and mustache. He and 
Roberta did much entertaining at home. As for going out, they 
were more likely to be found watching a jazz ensemble than visit- 
ing a nightclub. But they worked too hard to have much time for 
such entertainments. 

They cared about literature and the arts, music, architecture, 
dance (their daughter Joan became a dancer — and mathematical 
analyst). Many of their friends, especially in New York City, Los 
Angeles, and Chicago, were scholars and people in the arts such 
as the great art historian Meyer Shapiro and the mathematical lo- 
gician Willard Van Orman Quine. At RAND their friends includ- 
ed, among many others, sociologist Herbert Goldhamer, demog- 
rapher Fred Ikle, economist Andrew Marshall, physicist Herman 
Kahn, economist Charles Hitch, and engineer James Digby. In 
Chicago one met or heard about economists Harry Johnson, Gary 
Becker, Milton Friedman; the sociologist Edward Shils; law pro- 
fessor Edward Levi (who became Attorney General in the Ford 
Administration); Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow; and 
the remarkable polymath and social scientist (who had been at 
RAND) Nathan Leites. 

The objects of AW's work and life were large passions, and 
although he tried to be fair to intellectual opponents, he didn't 
always succeed. Wrong-headed people could be seen as fools, and 
he didn't suffer fools easily. But excellence, in the end, trumped 
and he certainly respected it. 


1. Thomas C. Schelling, "Global Warming: Intellectual 
History and Strategic Choices," Remarks at the Fourth Annual 
Hans Landsberg Memorial Lecture, Resources for the Future, 
Washington, DC; December 6, 2006, available from 
rff/Events/upload/255 73_1 .pdf 

2. Without doubt, the most bizarre tagging of AW was to 
identify him with the views of the political philosopher Leo 
Strauss, a fellow professor at the University of Chicago. AW must 
have known Strauss, but in my many years of association with 
AW, I cannot recall his name being mentioned once — in contrast 
to those of the Chicago luminaries noted above. 


3. Among the many misconceptions about AW's work is that 
it involved game theory. It did not formally. Game theory, which 
was being developed at RAND in the 1950s, deals with opposing 
choices, but it was too underdeveloped and abstract to deal with 
the kinds of concrete operational problems that AW and his team 
had sought to address. It provided metaphors — not useful models 
of interactions. 

4. For more on Albert Wohlstetter's methodology, see 
Wohlstetter, Theory and Opposed-System Design, D(L)-16001-1, 
Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, August 1967, revised 
January 1968, available from 
wohlstetter/DL16001.1/DL16001.1.html. AW's essay was later 
published as "Theory and Opposed-System Design," Journal of 
Conflict Resolution, Vol. 12, No. 3, September 1968, pp. 302-331. A 
version of that essay is included in this edited volume. 

5. See Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Robert J. Lutz, 
and Henry S. Rowen, The Selection of Strategic Air Bases, R-244-S, 
special staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, March 
1, 1953, TOP SECRET, declassified on July 1, 1963, available from; 
and Wohlstetter, Hoffman, Lutz, and Rowen, The Selection and 
Use of Strategic Air Bases, R-266, final report, Santa Monica, CA: 
RAND Corporation, April 1954, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 
1961, available from 

6. See Albert Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Robert J. Lutz, 
and Henry S. Rowen, Vulnerability of U.S. Strategic Air Power to a 
Surprise Enemy Attack in 1956, SM-15, Santa Monica, CA: RAND 
Corporation, April 15, 1953. 

7. Philip Taubman, Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the 
Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage, New York, NY: Simon 
and Schuster, 2003, p. 12. 

8. Despite the rapid acceptance of the need for a protected 
retaliatory power, the belief in using ballistic missile "launch- 
on-waming" responses to an attack long persisted among some 
high military authorities. It was a dangerous belief that entailed 
fast and irrevocable decisions when information was likely to be 
sparse and possibly wrong. 


9. On this point, see Vojtech Mastny and Malcolm Byrne, eds., 
A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991, 
Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, 2005. 

10. In the early 1960s, work done under the direction of 
two of AW's former associates, the author of this chapter, and 
more systematically by Alain Enthoven in the Pentagon's 
Office of Systems Analysis, countered the view of Warsaw Pact 
conventional superiority in Europe. Eventually, this counterview 
became more widely accepted — notably after the rise of Solidarity 
in Poland — although preserving the traditional argument of 
Soviet superiority was seen by the U.S. Army as necessary for 
budgetary reasons. 

11. One effort to deal with this contradiction was offered by 
Tom Schelling in a paper titled "The Threat that Leaves Something 
to Chance." (This paper was published as a chapter in Schelling, 
The Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 
1960, pp. 187-203.) Here, the view was that it was not rational 
to use nuclear weapons against an adversary that had them, but 
uncertainty as to what would happen if there were actually a war 
would induce caution all around. It was not a wholly comforting 
theory despite its plausibility. 

12. See Henry A. Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, 
New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1957. 

13. Albert Wohlstetter, "On the Genesis of Nuclear Strategy: 
Letter to Michael Howard," unpublished, November 6, 1968, 
revised circa April 1986 with additional material and annotations 
by James Digby and Arthur Steiner and a prefatory note by 
Michael Howard, Wohlstetter Papers, Writings, Box 187, Folder 
22. The annotated version of this letter is available in this edited 

14. The great mathematician, John von Neumann, was 
the stimulus for the name of an early computer at RAND, the 
Johnniac. Two economists of distinction who visited for some time 
were Thomas Schelling and Kenneth Arrow, each of whom later 
received the Nobel Prize in economics. Herbert Simon (another 
Nobel laureate in economics) had a long working association with 
rand's Allen Newell, doing work on human problem solving. 


15. Andrew May, "What Made RAND Work?" unpublished 
note based on discussions with Andrew Marshall, November 

16. President Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at the Presentation 
Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Albert and 
Roberta Wohlstetter," East Room, White House, Washington, DC, 
November 7, 1985, available from 

17. Albert Wohlstetter, "Scientists, Seers and Strategy," Foreign 
Ajfairs, Vol. 41, No. 3, April 1963, p. 471. 

18. Ihid. 

19. C. P. Snow, Science and Government: The Godkin Lectures at 
Harvard, 1960, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961. 

20. Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, and Henry S. Rowen, 
Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, R-290, 
staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, September 1, 
1956, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1960s, available from www. 

21. On this topic, see Albert Wohlstetter, "SAC Test 1957 of 
Alert Bomber Response — Only 'Fail Unsafe'," April 29, 1985, 
Wohlstetter Papers, Notes, Box 102, Folder 6, Tab H, p. 3. 

22. Ibid., p. 4. 

23. There has been public discussion of a very important 
but different topic: Have the Indians and Pakistanis installed 
Permissive Action Link (PALs) on their nuclear bombs — in effect, 
combination locks? For more on PALs, see Fred C. Ikle, Gerald 
J. Aronson, and Albert Madansky, On the Risk of an Accidental or 
Unauthorized Nuclear Detonation, RM-2251, Santa Monica, CA: 
RAND Corporation, October 15, 1958, esp. pp. 100-101 and 154, 
available from 


24. Before what levels of protection were determined to be 
technically feasible at what cost, AW and Fred Hoffman did a set 
of "break even" analyses on what such protection would be worth 
in terms of survival of missiles. It was more than enough to fit 

25. For a recently published criticism, see Richard Rhodes, 

Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, New York, 
NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. 

26. See "Appendix III: Treatment of Operations-Research 
Questions in the 1969 Debate," Operations Research: The Journal of 
the Operations Research Society of America, Vol. 19, No. 5, September 
1971, pp. 1175-1237. Quoted phrases appear on p. 1217. 

27. Albert Wohlstetter, "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" 
Foreign Policy, No. 15, Summer 1974, pp. 3-20; and Wohlstetter, 
"Rivals, But No 'Race'," Foreign Policy, No. 16, Fall 1974, pp. 48- 

28. Wohlstetter, "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" p. 3. 

29. Michael L. Nacht, "The Delicate Balance of Error," Foreign 
Policy, No. 19, Summer 1975, pp. 163-77. 

30. Henry S. Rowen, "Introduction," in Henry Sokolski, 
ed.. Getting A/LAD: Nuclear Mutual Assure Destruction, Its 
Origins and Practice, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 
November 2004, p. 3, available from 

31. Albert Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror (un- 
abridged version), P-1472, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 
November 6, 1958, Revised December 1958, p. 17, available from 

32. Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror, p. 18. 

33. Henry Sokolski has called my attention to a press release 
issued about a week after the report was released saying that "it 
would be unwise to rely on denaturing to insure an interval of as 
much as a year." See Press Release No. 235 [on the Secretary of 
State's Committee on Atomic Energy's Report on the International 


Control of Atomic Energy, Washington, DC: U.S. Government 
Printing Office, March 16, 1946], U.S. Department of State, April 
9, 1946. 

34. An important vehicle for addressing this and other security 
issues was Discriminate Deterrence, final report of the Commission 
on an Integrated Long Term Strategy, Washington, DC: U.S. 
Government Printing Office, January 1988, www.alhertwohlstetter. 
com/writings/Descriminate Deterrence. Co-chaired by AW and 
Fred Ikle, the Commission was made up of a distinguished set of 
members appointed jointly by the Secretary of Defense and the 
President's National Security Advisor. 

35. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of 
Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, a pastoral letter on war and 
peace, Washington, DC: Office of Publication Services of the U.S. 
Catholic Conference, May 3, 1983. 

36. Albert Wohlstetter, "Bishops, Statesmen, and Other 
Strategists on the Bombing of Innocents," Commentary, Vol. 75, 
No. 6, June 1983, p. 15. 

37. Ihid. 

38. Ihid, p. 16. 

39. "Background Briefing on Targeting," news transcript, 
U.S. Department of Defense, March 5, 2003, available from www. transcriptid=2007. 

40. See "Targeting and Collateral Damage," presentation 
slides. Central Command, U.S. Department of Defense, March 
5, 2003, slide 4, available from 
Slide.aspx?Briefing SlideID=90. 

41. Jay Winik, On the Brink: The Dramatic, Behind-the-Scenes 
Saga of the Reagan Era and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold 
War, New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1996, p. 50. Quoted by 
Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, p. 111. 


Theory and Opposed-Systems Design (1968) 

Albert Wohlstetter 

D(L)-16001-1, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 
August 1967, revised January 1968, available from 

www. 6001.1/ 
DLieOOl.l.html. Courtesy of the Wohlstetter Estate. 

I. Madness in Methodology? 

When, after nearly a decade of study and work in the 
field, 1 left mathematical logic and the logic of science, 1 made 
a resolution not to write papers on the methodology or logic of 
social science — for fear 1 would never learn any social science. It 
was all too easy at the time to publish applications of Boolean 
algebra or the calculus of relations or the like that could just 
conceivably be relevant to some future empirical study, in, say, 
economics. But 1 had the uneasy feeling that in offering guides 
for new approaches to social science, 1 might never approach very 
closely myself. And 1 did want to learn something of the facts of life 
and the substantive issues whose powerful interest had dragged 
me away from the more chaste attractions of logic. 1 also had an 
uncomfortable suspicion that the devastating remark of the great 
French mathematician, Henri Poincare, about sociology ("The 
most methods, and the least results") might only too accurately 
describe the way one might dally in the approach to any social 
science in order to avoid actually going in and getting lost in a 
very dense jungle. Maps, brochures, the purchase of compasses, 
machetes, bush jackets, and rakish tropical helmets can be used as 
a substitute for a hot and sweaty journey. In short, 1 sympathize 
with Johan Galtung's misgivings about theories about theory in 
a theory-poor field. (And with the feeling expressed by Burton 
Marshall since 1 first wrote these lines: reading the behavioralist 
literature in international relations seems a bit like sitting through 
an overture that never ends.^ But 1 find that traditionalist critiques 
of behavioral essays on methodology, with rare exceptions like 
Marshall's own laconic contributions, have their own longeurs.) 

Nonetheless, 1 find myself on the point of talking about an 
approach, and supposedly a distinctive approach, to the study of 
international relations — a notoriously impenetrable jungle. One 
customary way to begin such a discussion is to tick off all the 


other approaches, the wrong ones, and to end up with a shiny, 
colored brochure describing the right one — that sole hope for 
social science, your own. That is not the plan of this paper (though 
flesh being what it is, it might, of course, turn out that way). 

The sort of study that has mainly engaged me for the last 
sixteen years has been pragmatic in purpose. Yet it seems to me 
that, from time to time, it has displayed traits of the relations 
among nations that are interesting and even important for theory. 
It has at any rate involved the extensive use of theory. That is 
to say, it has used mathematical models in "essentially general" 
form, models that refer to potential operations among states or 
other elements in the international system in a way that cannot 
be reduced merely to elementary statements about individual 
objects or to a finite conjunction of such singular statements.^ It 
has also involved a great deal of grubby, highly specific empirical 
work on technologies, operations, costs, and potential interactions 
among states, factors that are plainly relevant for decisions of 
the governments of these states — or for citizens evaluating these 
decisions. It has required the cooperation of several disciplines 
and, in particular, a kind of close working together of natural 
science and social science disciplines which remains very unusual, 
if it exists at all, in universities. Hence, "a new approach." 

On the other hand, it is quite clear to me that this line of 
attack hardly exhausts the approaches to the investigation of 
the relations among states or even the good approaches. And its 
novelties do not mean a total discontinuity with other ways of 
looking at the subject. I believe, in fact, that for all the obvious 
differences in its quantitative form from the classical or traditional 
writings in the field, with a bit of stretching of both, the approach 
I shall call "opposed-systems design" can be accommodated 
within the classical tradition quite as easily as within the more 
recent behavioral studies. It has indeed dealt with some matters 
at the heart of traditional international relations theory — namely, 
power relations among states — in a particularly operational and 
concrete way. Much behavioral theory does not. It differs from 
classical theory in subject as well as method. 

Declaring yourself neutral in the war between the classicists 
and the behavioralists is probably about as safe as claiming 
neutrality between General Cao Ky and the Buddhists in Vietnam, 
and as little convincing to either side. Nonetheless, it is true 
that I have a high regard for a good many traditional studies of 
international relations— so far, for rather more of them perhaps 


than for the new studies. At the same time, I believe that some 
numerical relations are essential in understanding the changing 
relations among states; that they are frequently implicit in at 
least rudimentary form in the classical works and could stand 
more rigorous statement, imaginative extension, and systematic 
confirmation or disconfirmation by evidence. And I suspect that 
the specific quantitative methods that engage behavioralists 
today include some of those that might suggest fruitful theory. 
The current practices of traditional and behavioral studies do not 
exclude each other, nor do they together — or even in combination 
with the approach I shall describe — exhaust the possibilities. It is 
very easy to find miserable examples of any method, including, 
I would stress, the one I shall describe. There are no methods 
certain of result in a complex field of research. None is proof 
against a dim awareness of interesting problems or incompetence 
in formulating manageable and significant questions. The truth 
is that international studies are a hard line of work. The useful 
inquiries in international affairs that contrast in method, in good 
part, seem to me to complement each other, but to focus on 
different questions. 

My purpose in this paper will be to describe the sort of study I 
have been concerned with, and then to try to locate it very briefly 
with respect to other studies in the field, some traditional and some 
(to use once again the current jargon) behavioral. The precision 
with which I can locate the method of opposed-systems design is 
limited by the fact that, while I have been actively concerned for 
quite a few years in the field of international affairs, I can claim 
no encyclopedic understanding of the literature. In any case the 
comparisons, as I have already suggested, are not invidious but 

II. Opposed Systems 

A. Questions for Decision-Makers 

I shall use the phrase "opposed-systems design" to name 
a kind of study that attempts to discern and answer questions 
affecting policy— specifically affecting a choice of ends and of 
means to accomplish ends that stand a good chance of being 
opposed by other governments. The ends of any government 
are multiple and only partially incompatible with those of other 
governments — even very hostile ones — and of course such 


conflicts may be resolved without fighting. A peaceful resolution 
may depend in part on the risks involved in combat. In any case 
the conflict of aims raises the possibility of combat: and a major 
part of these studies is concerned therefore with the likelihood 
and the likely outcomes of such combat. In fact, they grew out of 
operational research as it had been practiced in World War II. 

The positive reasons for my choice of this label will be 
made clear in what follows. On the negative side, "opposed- 
systems design" replaces several synonyms — some of my own 
devising — which have not quite succeeded in fending off casual 
misunderstanding. One workable synonym might appear to be 
"strategic studies"; but the phrase is at best ambiguous and at 
worst a militantly indiscriminate epithet used by antagonists of 
any study of potential military conflict. The most familiar serious 
candidate is E. L. Paxson's "systems analysis" and, in fact, this has 
the largest currency; there is now, for example, an able Assistant 
Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis. But the word "system" 
is everybody's possession. It is used rather differently by engineers 
in "systems engineering," by theorists of international relations, 
and in particular by Mr. Kaplan in his "systems theory," and, 
rather mysteriously, by the general semanticists in their "general 
systems theory." As a short name for a complex of interdependent 
elements, the word "system" seems nearly indispensable, but not 
specific enough. Yet it is used without qualification to designate 
very different kinds of complexes of interdependent elements. 
I have tried in the past to discriminate the sort of study Paxson 
had in mind from many of these others by talking of "conflict- 
systems design," but that has the difficulty of suggesting that the 
goal of study is to generate conflict. "Conflict-worthy systems," 
modeled on "sea-worthy," is a more accurate term but even more 
awkward. Perhaps "opposed-systems design" is closing in on it. 
Potential opposition at any rate is an essential. 

In both England and the United States during World War 
II, as is well known, a considerable and very fruitful effort was 
devoted to operational research, to the systematic analysis of 
alternative ways of accomplishing various proximate objectives. 
These analyses aided decisions on how to deploy and operate 
radars and coordinate them with interceptors in the Battle of 
Britain, how to pattern the movements of destroyers searching for 
submarines in the Bay of Biscay, how to determine the optimum 
altitudes for penetration and bomb delivery in the European 
theater, and a host of other matters. Studies of similar scope and 


intent continue today and are applied to aid or implement the 
decisions not only of national organizations but also of alliance 
and international (including interadversary) organizations. 
Among the latter studies are analyses of the instruments and 
sampling inspection procedures for an underground test ban or to 
prevent the diversion of material or equipment from peaceful to 
nonpeaceful uses in nuclear reactors operated under international 

Present as well as past operational research had to do with 
how best to operate with given organizations and specified 
equipment in order to achieve various near-term goals. The 
operations studied have been essentially tactical. After World War 
II, however, broader analyses to aid decisions were made, dealing 
with a longer run in which a wider range of alternatives could be 
made available. New equipment could be designed, developed, 
and purchased, organizations could be expanded or contracted, 
and more numerous uncertainties were likely to affect the 
environment in which they operated and the goals they worked to 
achieve. Such cardinal choices, to borrow a term from C. P. Snow, 
might be illustrated by the decision on how to allocate resources 
for a strategic force that would not be operational until some years 
hence and that one might expect to constitute a major part of the 
operational force for the better part of the following decade. How 
much should one spend on increasing the size of this force and 
how much on protecting it and making it more subject to control? 
This specific choice was a vital one in developing a second-strike 
capability and in clarifying the objective of deterrence. Another 
question presently much debated, especially in connection 
with the decision on ballistic missile defense, concerns resource 
allocation between offense and active and passive defense. In an 
international environment that includes five countries that have 
made nuclear explosions and over one hundred and thirty that 
have not, still another cardinal issue today concerns the choice 
of military stance, formal or informal alliance commitments, and 
practicable international treaty arrangements among adversaries 
that may best reduce the expectation of nuclear war and the 
damage it would do. Such larger studies contrast with operational 
research mainly in degree, in the number of factors considered, 
and in the time perspective. In fact, they normally incorporate 
many operational research studies as components. They may 
be said to consider the larger "strategic" alternatives as distinct 
from the smaller "tactical" choices made in operational research. 


provided "strategy" is understood broadly enough to include a 
choice of ends as well as means. 

All such studies, whether in the large or in the small, concern 
alternative systems involving both items of equipment and 
organizations of men using them. In this respect they are like 
the systems engineering studies of large complex systems in the 
public utility field, such as telephony, transportation, or postal 
systems. But in a public utility like the Bell Telephone system 
or the Japanese Super Hikari express train system, the principal 
obstacles to be overcome are natural ones: difficult terrain, storms, 
earthquakes, atmospheric disturbances, etc., with direct human 
opposition, such as sabotage, forming only a minor concern. In 
the field of arms and arms control both the peacetime and wartime 
decisions that will affect the safety and power relations among 
states must all be taken with potential man-made obstacles in 
mind; their success in good part depends on other decisions that 
may be taken by an at least partially hostile government. 

B. Theoretical Models 

In elaborating an analysis of the capabilities in the 1950s of 
either of the two major nuclear powers for striking back after 
nuclear attack on its strategic force, or in analyzing the feasibility 
and cost in the 1970s for one of the two major powers to limit 
potential damage by using active defenses against an initial 
ballistic missile attack, mathematical models embodying a 
theory of these interactions are necessary. Sometimes large-scale 
computer models are required. Sometimes a small analytic model 
will catch essential features of the subject matter. A study of the 
protection of strategic forces in the early 1950s^ used differential 
equation models capable of analytic solution on a slide rule, as well 
as Monte Carlo computer models for some component studies. 
Optimal solutions found by partial differentiation required fixing 
in advance the values of a great many variables (numbers of 
targets struck, the number of vehicles forming a "cell" to saturate 
defenses, the number of warheads, the number of kilograms per 
warhead, the overpressure resistance of elements on bases and 
their dispersal in space, deployment and delay times in the active 
defenses, approach and penetration routes and altitude profiles, 
and peacetime costs that varied for alternative readiness choices 
among others). Though some simple analytic models have been 
useful, their realism and utility have depended on their being 


associated with a painstaking empirical examination of variations 
much too complex to be represented by a well-behaved analytic 
function or a smooth curve. For example, the losses to be expected 
by aircraft penetrating distant defenses and many other costs 
that vary with distance are seldom essentially continuous or 
linear or monotonic-increasing. They may not even be steadily 
nondecreasing. Nor are they derivable from common experience. 

It is worth observing that, contrary to current legend, opposed- 
systems analyses have made little or no use of game theory, and 
while they normally require many map exercises, they have 
not been heavily dependent on formal games or experimental 
simulation. I would guess that games and game theory have 
played a much smaller role in serious studies whose main aim 
is to aid specific decisions on opposed systems than they do in 
the more general academic behavioral literature on international 
conflict appearing in such magazines as the Journal of Conflict 

In the more successful studies, mathematical models of 
potential military interaction have played a rather pragmatic 
role, but they are essential. On the other hand, so is a great deal 
of elementary arithmetic; and much study of data derived from 
state-of-the-arts studies, theoretical analyses of equipment design, 
tests of existing equipment and components of future equipment, 
peacetime operations and logistics; and also political data 
permitting at least rough judgments of such contingencies as the 
loss of various overseas base areas. (Political catastrophes such as 
the loss of bases may affect aircraft and tanker requirements quite 
as much as technological factors like specific fuel consumption.) 
Since the choices to be affected extend years into the future, the 
alternatives compared and studied empirically may include not 
simply the received or existing alternatives but also invented 
ones. The invention of operations, organizations, or equipment 
has, in fact, been crucial in the studies that have worked out best. 

C. The Time Span Covered 

These theories and the policies they serve deal with a future 
that is long compared to the models and choices in traditional 
operational research, which aims at proximate goals for forces 
substantially fixed in size and composition. On the other hand, 
their scope in time has been modest by comparison with that 
of attempts to construct theories of international strategy, as in 


Schelling, or systems theories, as in Kaplan, or theories of the 
balance of power like Deutsch and Singer's highly general semi- 
quantitative construct; or many of the more traditional, less 
explicitly quantitative theories. The sort of opposed-systems 
design of which I speak studies technologies, operations, political 
interactions, and economic costs stretching perhaps for as much 
as a decade and a half into the future, and designs alternative 
systems to operate within that period, which has seemed to be 
about as far in advance as the technological and political context 
can be foreseen or parameterized with enough constraints to yield 
conclusions. In fact, though hope and salesmanship may spring 
eternal for eternal final solutions to our troubles, the best practice 
is quite self-conscious about the finiteness of the life of measures 
proposed, and will estimate their end. Thus, at the beginning of 
the 1950s, it was possible to design a system of deterrence for 
the rest of the decade in the United States, which used tactical 
warning to permit alert response as an essential part of a complex 
set of arrangements. But by the time the system was designed 
and some of its elements adopted in principle, while it had seven 
years or so to run, it was also foreseen by the designers that travel 
times for attacking vehicles in the early 1960s would be so sharply 
reduced that warning and alert measures, while still useful, would 
no longer have a decisive importance. They would not, at any 
rate, be adequate. Measures that did not depend on warning and 
fast response, such as shelter for strategic vehicles or a mode of 
operation which kept vehicles on the move, would be an essential 
both for survival under attack and for reducing the likelihood of a 
fast and irrevocable response to a false alarm. At the start of 1954, 
a second study which designed a deterrent system for the 1960s 
suggested the methods of hardening that were later adopted, but 
explicitly anticipated that the adequacy of such measures would 
not outlast the 1960s, when guidance technology could be expected 
to reduce the inaccuracy exploited by protective construction.* 
(The first sketch of the study was entitled "Defending a Strategic 
Force After 1960" and had a subsection entitled "After After 1960" 
which dealt with technological changes likely in the 1970s. ^) In 
both studies, estimates of the length of time at the end of which 
the design measures would no longer suffice turned out to be 
quite accurate. It is interesting to observe that ambitious smaller 
powers developing nuclear forces have chugged along, ten years 
out of phase, just in time to develop first- and second-generation 
forces capable of meeting the past but not the contemporaneous 


The perspective of ten or fifteen years or so may not be an 
essential permanent feature of such opposed-systems design 
and analysis. But neither is it accidental. It has been connected 
with the fact that some of the major technological changes take 
that long to come into effect, once they are visible. It has taken 
about that long for some of the potentially decisive changes in the 
state of the art to go from the stage of well confirmed principle 
through research, development, engineering, and procurement 
to operation on a considerable scale. After that they are likely 
to remain in operation for some time. In the summer of 1953, 
for example, Bruno Augenstein and (a while later) the Gardner 
Committee perceived the implications of high-yield, relatively 
small, light fusion payloads for transforming the performance 
of the intercontinental ballistic missile program then under 
desultory development for over a half a dozen years. However, 
even the crash program that resulted, and many billions of 
dollars, could not advance the time to a date earlier than the 
1960s, at which ballistic missiles would make up the bulk of the 
force of the two major powers. It was possible in 1951 and 1952 to 
recognize that vehicles travelling at ballistic speeds might appear 
in the force in the sixties decade; and by 1953 to recognize they 
would be; and in both cases to take such impending changes into 
account in designing systems of deterrence. Years before forces 
are in operation, it is possible to analyze their interactions with 
some success, and frequently also to recognize the time limits in 
which the analysis is valid. It is not solely, of course, a matter of 
the technological state of the art. Some of the conditions of the 
analysis will also concern the rate of change at which political 
arrangements may take place. So at the start of the 1950s, with 
base rights in two dozen or more countries, one could safely 
assume that while some rights would be withdrawn, not all nor, 
in fact, most of these rights would be lost by the end of the decade. 
One could, moreover, test alternative base systems for how they 
would fare under a variety of reasonably likely contingencies; 
but, beyond a decade, the variety of possibilities multiplies very 

I would not exclude the possibility of dealing with longer-run 
futures. Indeed, some sorts of gross technological and political 
change may be visible in outline decades off and yet require so 
long an incubation period that they need some actions now to 
bring them into being or to prevent some desirable futures from 
being foreclosed. Even designs for Bell Telephone must sometimes 
be planned on a time scale involving decades. Changes in urban 


development and population concentrations are extremely slow, 
and some of the time constants in urban and regional design need 
also to be quite long. It is apparent that some major features of 
the international environment will change only over a period of 
decades, and, while attempts at increasing safety must be open to 
the wide variety of contingencies implied by such a scale, some 
gross limitations on this variety may be decipherable. There 
are a number of attempts now current to look at such long-run 
futures, or proposals to do so (Bertrand de Jouvenel's Futuribles; 
the Commission for the Year 2000 of the American Academy of 
Arts and Sciences; the Hudson Institute Project on the Year 2000; 
the Institute for 21st Century Studies at Ball State University in 
Muncie, Indiana; Olaf Helmer's projected Institute for the Future; 
and many others) and such activity may yield useful guides for 
designing systems for very long-term changes in international 
affairs. However, for the time, the empirical success of such 
studies of the long-run future lies in the future; we may hope in a 
shorter-run future. 

The upshot of the foregoing is that, at best, the theories 
developed so far in opposed-systems design cover a self- 
consciously restricted interval of time in which the critical, 
potential, dynamic interactions are mainly contained within the 
span of less than a decade and a half, sometimes considerably 

D. Means 

What I have said already makes clear that an opposed-systems 
design deals with a complex variety of means and conditions 
including various technologies, modes of operation, organizations, 
and economic and political factors. Most important, such factors 
have to be dealt with simultaneously, since there is a great deal 
of feedback. Take the critical role of technology, for example. If 
you look at economic treatises you will find statements like "We 
assume as given the maximum amount of output x, which can be 
produced from any given set of inputs (v^ ... v^ ). This catalogue 
of possibilities is the production function and may be written 
x = T(vi... v„)". 

For an opposed-systems design a procedure of taking the 
technical coefficients as fixed or as undetermined parameters will 
not do. A central part of the inquiry must look at the current and 
impending state of the art and at feasible and useful changes. 
In the past two decades in which such inquiries have grown 


up, nuclear, electronic, propulsion, and transport technology 
have changed massively. The problem is not just to predict such 
changes, however. Since this is a work of design, it must explore 
how — in the light of interdependences with military, political, 
and economic events — the changes may usefully be bent. 

Technology with its enormous changes presents not only 
essential problems for the analysis, but also some of the major 
distinctive opportunities for such an analysis. For, along with the 
uncertainties, a system with a large technological component, 
like the highly organized warning, command, control, com- 
munication, and reaction systems of aircraft and missiles, 
inevitably displays many regularities and predictabilities, and 
the changed relationships brought about by order-of-magnitude 
increases in a critical technical variable will also be accessible to 
theoretical analysis. (Thus changes of three orders of magnitude 
in the explosive yield of a given volume and weight of payload, 
and by an order of magnitude in the speed of vehicles, or by an 
order of magnitude in delivery accuracy, can be expected to have 
decisive and analyzable effects on the economic and operational 

Analyses of opposed systems have worked out best where 
the technical component has been large and where, as a result, 
the problem of predicting the outcome of operational interactions 
has been more manageable. (Yet not without its surprises: some 
of the greatest successes have come where large changes in the 
technical components impend, but the ramified consequences of 
these changes are obvious only after an analysis of considerable 
sophistication.) Analyses have worked least well where the 
systems analyzed have been determined by minutely varied local 
characteristics, such as terrain, morale, training, etc., with no gross 
technical components dominating the result. Operational analyses 
of the interaction of ground forces are seldom convincing for this 
reason, except where there are many obvious disproportions 
between the components of strength of opposing sides. The 
formal models they employ — usually some simple differential 
equations of a type introduced by F. W. Lanchester near the start 
of World War P — have not often provided very persuasive or 
useful representations of these highly variable, locally determined 
phenomena. In their simplest form, Lanchester' s equations 
state that the rate of change or dissipation in a military force is 
proportional to the absolute size of the opposing military force. 
The constant of proportionality in this negative term represents 


the rate of destruction that can be brought about by a unit of the 
opposing military force. 

dt ^ 

Partly, perhaps, because these equations have a simple analytic 
solution, a vast literature has grown up elaborating them and 
applying them to a very wide variety of cases/ 

There are some actual cases which approximate these 
equations. In this respect there is quite as much to say for them as 
for Richardson's formally similar equations, now rather popular 
for representing arms races. In fact, some rather better fits 
have been found for the Lanchester equations.^ But they do not 
represent a universal law governing all combat. And Lanchester 
himself was aware of situations in which they did not apply at 
all. They have not been much help in predicting the outcomes of 
classical war between large armies. 

Judging the outcome of potential classical combat is a 
problem not simply for analysts, of course, but for decision- 
makers, too. The Israelis, for example, feel themselves menaced 
in a world in which their hostile neighbors outnumber them 
by a factor of twenty-five. They regard their own superiority in 
morale, training, education, and technical skill as making up for 
some of this numerical difference in population and even in the 
number of tanks and other equipment, but have made clear that 
there are some changes in Arab military equipment and even 
some political changes that they will not tolerate. They believe 
that such changes would presage a successful Arab attack. But 
how does one estimate the outcome of such complex interactions 
in which so many of the variables that influence the result are 
hard to measure? 

Just before the Suez campaign of 1956, Czech and Russian 
arms arrangements with Egypt drastically increased Egyptian 
superiority in tanks and jet aircraft to a ratio of four to one. 
According to General Dayan, "In artillery, naval vessels and 
infantry weapons, the Israel picture was no better. It was not 
only the disparity in quantity but also the superiority in quality 
which decisively upset the arms scales."' A maxim attributed to 
Napoleon is that the moral is to the material as four is to one. It is, 
however, difficult to establish a unit of moral, and it is therefore 


rather hard to know how to trade it against jet aircraft and tanks. 
In any case, the Israelis decided not to wait until the increase in 
Egyptian armaments had become operationally effective. Again 
in 1967, on the basis of published figures,^" it appears that the 
Egyptians had about 430 combat aircraft, not counting jet trainers, 
and the Israelis had about 200, not counting their 60 Magister 
Fouga trainers. There were large discrepancies in other arms, 
and if one counted in the Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces 
(these countries had all joined Nasser in the week preceding the 
outbreak), the odds looked again to be close to four to one. Such 
gross order-of-battle figures are hard to interpret. And in 1967 
it is clear that the Israelis and the Egyptians interpreted them 
differently. Intuition had to serve. But it did not serve the two 
sides equally. 

Intuition plays a role in all theorizing, too, but in a successful 
systems analysis the theory can do a good deal to support and 
sharpen and sometimes correct intuition. The Israelis have 
recently, along with the Swedes and some other of the smaller 
powers, done a good deal to develop systems analysis and 
opposed-systems design. But it appears so far that their analytic 
successes, like those of the NATO countries, have been not as 
much in large-scale ground war as in very small unit interaction 
and in the more technologically determined areas, such as those 
involving aircraft. Air war was Lanchester's starting point a half- 
century ago, even though he applied it more broadly. So far I 
know of no convincing opposed-systems analysis in the large (i.e., 
strategy) of warfare between large armies. 

The growing importance of technology and the gross changes 
in performance effected by new states of the art assure an increas- 
ing range of application for the sorts of theory used in opposed- 
systems design. It is a paradox that we can do better in analyzing 
the potential outcomes of some sorts of conflict that have never 
occurred than we can do with conflicts of the sort that have been 
endemic for ages. This does not mean, of course, that the new 
sorts of conflicts would not have their surprises. It remains true 
that anticipating the course and result of a war between armies of 
men with variable intensities of political motivation and skill on 
terrain whose multiple surface deformations strongly influence 
outcomes of separate local engagements over a period of weeks, 
months, or even years is extraordinarily hard — except possibly 
for cases where an opponent grossly outclasses the other in all 
relevant respects. And, by comparison, one can with relative ease 
predict the consequence of 50 or 100 fusion-tipped intermediate 


range ballistic missiles with known accuracies and yields 
exploding on ten or so aircraft bases containing vehicles without 
benefit of tactical warning or blast protection. A relatively few 
measurable variables determine the outcome. This "easy" analysis, 
however, is not trivial. It has substantial contemporary relevance, 
for example, to an estimate of the second-strike capability of the 
first-generation French nuclear force based on some ten points in 
south and southwestern France. Against a small force of Russian 
rockets used appropriately, it has no significant probability of 
survival. Slightly more complicated analyses of their second- 
generation force yield similar results. Neither the Mirage IV 
bomber force nor the hardened missile force in Haute Provence 
which will succeed it could survive an attack from the more 
advanced contemporary forces whose threat they are supposed 
to deter. Such an analysis would be reinforced by considerations 
of the problem of protecting centers of command and the flow of 
information to and from them; and of the cumulative obstacles 
that can be interposed inside the territory of a major antagonist. 
Uncertainties qualify all empirical analyses, but in these cases 
they are much reduced, so gross are the determinants of the 
cumulative interactions. Rather more complex but quite reliable 
analyses can be made of the third-generation French force. These 
analyses of the military performance do not say all there is to say 
about the force defrappe, or the broader questions of incentives and 
drawbacks to the spread of nuclear weapons, but they say some 
things of great importance. ^^ 

Finally, though the regularities introduced by technology have 
played an important and even a critical role in opposed-systems 
design, such analyses nonetheless are not purely technological, 
though some technologists are in the habit of saying so. There are 
essential interactions and feedbacks, as I have already said, with 
operational, economic, and political events. 

E. Ends 

One of the disabilities of the phrase "strategic studies" as a 
description or title of the opposed-systems analyses that have 
grown up since World War II is that at least some of the dictionary 
definitions of "strategy" limit the word to the study of alternative 
means to attain fixed ends. These wide-ranging studies, looking 
ahead for many years, differ from operational research by taking 
as a salient objective the clarification and revision of the objectives 
maximized. ^^ This point is worth stressing not simply because of 


the possible misleading associations with the word "strategy," but 
because of some current semi-comic misunderstandings on the 
subject. Unlike operational research on tactics, opposed-systems 
design of major alternatives tends where it is successful to involve 
a careful critique of constraints and objectives. A government's 
ends cannot be accepted as the final deliverances of authority or 
intuition. They are subject to revision as the result of an analysis 
that frequently displays incompatibilities with other ends of that 
government, or that indicates means so costly that the game is 
not worth the candle. Moreover, even when an opposed-systems 
design does not set out to revise objectives, it is quite likely to end 
up that way." 

The tentative character of the objectives examined in an 
opposed-systems design and the importance of questioning ends 
as well as means are not merely minor qualifications in a general 
practice of finding the best means to fixed, unquestionable ends. 
They are major points of difference from operational research, 
stressed from the start by the principal practitioners of opposed- 
systems design. The need to take objectives only on trial is imposed, 
in the case of actual research on broad policy issues extending over 
years, by the very breadth of the inquiry. There is no authoritative 
or intuitive set of goals perfectly compatible with each other and 
with content enough to furnish guidance. In fact, there is always 
a multiplicity of goals in partial conflict. Political circumstances 
and technologies alter, making the old goals partially irrelevant 
and sometimes offering opportunities to satisfy several desired 
objectives simultaneously that had been previously incompatible, 
or vice versa. The well-defined preference function establishing 
at least a weak ordering among all possible alternatives, which 
is a convenient assumption in much of economic theory, is never 
realized in fact even for individuals, much less for nations. "All 
possible alternatives" are not in general definable and not all of the 
possibilities we might specify are strictly speaking "connected," 
subject to a weak order: there are some complex pairs of 
alternatives we don't know how to compare, how to establish one 
member of the pair as no worse than the other. While there are, of 
course, some -partial orders among our preferences, frequently we 
learn how to compare them only in the process of an analysis.^* 

Of course, a government agency seeking aid in its decisions 
may have quite firm ideas to start with as to what it wants to 
accomplish by a specific decision and may hope for succor only in 
the choice of means. Nonetheless, precisely because governments 
have limited resources and more than one objective, there is 


always the possibility that the initial objective will be bought at 
too great a sacrifice of other goals. And, from the standpoint of 
the sponsoring agency itself, one critical advantage of objective 
research on policy is that it can aid decision to avoid irrational 
sacrifice of important goals by pointing to the need for revising 
ends. Moreover, in governments such as that of the United 
States, questioning goals need not be terribly dangerous to the 
questioner; there are always enough factions espousing varied 
ends to provide some safety in dealing with a short-sighted or 
dogmatic leadership. 

One may ask, however, whether there are not limits in the 
method of opposed-systems analysis which prevent the question- 
ing of some objectives. Isn't it tied to the "power structure"^' — 
whatever mist that hazy phrase designates? If the conclusion of 
a systems analysis were to propose the overthrow by force of 
a government sponsoring it, it would be rather unreasonable 
to suppose that the sponsor would be overjoyed: "Yes, indeed, 
the analysis has not met my original objectives, but it has hit on 
something more important: my violent overthrow." Or, "It has 
met my original objectives, and even better, it involves my violent 
overthrow." But few foreign-policy objectives of government 
in the United States seem to be so fundamentally at odds with 
the realities that they require overthrow of our government for 
their accomplishment; and if they are, this is hardly a limitation 
characteristic of the method of analysis. Let me expand on this a 

So far we have talked about governments and nations. Most 
of the problems normally considered in international relations 
have to do with the relations among states. This is, to be sure, 
somewhat artificial — an approximation useful for some purposes, 
like the treatment of stars as point-masses in astronomy. However, 
the internal structure of states may critically affect conflict or 
cooperation among states, the start or ending of wars, and many 
other matters. Specific peace terms may look less tolerable to the 
ruling faction than continuing to fight; concluding the war may 
then require dealing with a faction previously not in control. 
Dealings with governments to end World Wars I and II provide 
several examples. An analytic understanding of alternatives in 
civil wars is of interest, therefore, to the international theorist as 
well as to the decision-maker.^* 

I refer to the decision-maker both in and out of the government. 
There is no reason why a revolutionary might not find it handy 
to use the tools of opposed-systems design himself. Mao, Giap, 


Guevara, and many others have worked out theories of how 
best to overthrow some sorts of government, complete with 
suggestions as to the technical equipment for conducting guerrilla 
war as well as the political devices that seem to have worked out 
best. A careful reading of their manuals suggests they might use a 
more tentative and systematic self -correcting mode of theorizing 
themselves, and there is nothing in the character of opposed- 
systems design that gives capitalist governments a patent which 
cannot be infringed. Though revolutionaries normally require 
rather rigid adherence to their programs, it should be observed, 
of course, that the ends of revolutionaries are multiple and often 
turn out to be in conflict, too, and therefore cannot safely be 
regarded as final. A good opposed-systems design to bring about 
a revolution would not be too rigidly tied to the unanalyzed goals 
of the revolutionary power structure. 

F. Uncertainties, Simplifications, and the Role of Inequalities 

Statements about new approaches tend to be both pro- 
grammatic and excessively hopeful. I believe there have been 
some successes in the analysis and design of opposed systems. 
But I have tried to suggest, as I have gone along, some of their 
limits. In fact, very large uncertainties affect both the ends and the 
means dealt with in an opposed-systems analysis; and the models 
used, while solving some problems, introduce others. Inevitably 
they simplify, and therefore introduce error. Simplification 
is a problem for all theory. I can say just a little about both the 
uncertainties and about how opposed-systems design has dealt 
with them and with the biases of theoretical simplification.^^ 

First, on the uncertainties. The long period between the 
gestation of a technology and its birth, operational life, and death 
has a double aspect, so far as uncertainty is concerned. It means 
that the system as originally conceived will have to face a great 
many eventualities that were unlikely to have been foreseen at the 
time of conception. On the other hand, it confers some element of 
stability and predictability that can be used in an analysis. 

The B-36 took some seventeen years from the idea of it to 
the time at which it was phased out of the strategic force. It was 
conceived shortly after the fall of France as insurance against the 
contingency that Britain might fall, too. Its proponents thought of 
it as a way of reaching Germany with high explosives from bases 
at intercontinental distances, if no bases nearby were available. 
It was at the beginning a propeller plane, designed to operate 


against defenses consisting of guns and propeller-driven fighter 
planes. Its designers did not consider the opposition of surface- 
to-air missiles or jets and knew nothing of the Manhattan Project 
which was shortly to develop nuclear explosives. In fact, they 
learned of the Manhattan Project only when most of us did, with 
the explosion at Hiroshima. By the time the B-36 was phased into 
the force, after many vicissitudes, it had four jet engines as well as 
six propeller engines. It was expected to carry a nuclear payload 
over quite different routes to quite different targets against a 
different enemy with markedly different active defenses, and an 
offense that might make even bases at intercontinental distances 
unsafe.^* The history of tactical fighter planes seems even more 
regularly to display disparities between initial conception and 
actual operating conditions. This can be illustrated by the story of 
the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang in World War II." 

Such large and ineradicable uncertainties present problems 
in plenty for analysts, but even more for dogmatists. And large 
bureaucracies teem with dogmatists. Of necessity most of the 
bureaucracy will be engaged in the complexities of day-to-day 
decision of the sort that keeps a bureaucracy afloat. Intelligence 
tends to be expended in the short run, while frequently very large 
changes are gathering and — to the persistent eye — are already 
visible just beyond the short run. The familiar trait of inertia 
that characterizes large and complex organizations confers an 
especially great marginal productivity on realistic analysis of the 
basic changes impending and their significance. New technologies 
involving dramatic order-of-magnitude improvements take a 
considerable time to become operational realities; this fact limits 
the range of uncertainty, making it possible to look ahead. The char- 
acteristics of decision-making in large organizations frequently 
insure that, without a systematic effort at analyzing the distant 
consequences of coming changes, programs will be obsolete by 
the time they come into effect. Inventive and realistic systems 
design has been useful not so much because it is intrinsically so 
good as because the alternative of routine decision is so bad. 

The strategy for dealing with uncertainty is related also 
to the method of treating the biases introduced by theoretical 
simplification. The equations of the physical sciences typically 
simplify: they hold only under ideal conditions. However, in 
contrast to the empirical associations found in most quantitative 
social science inquiries, inequalities or differences between 
predicted and actual values can frequently be explained (by the 
physical scientist) as due to deviations of the experiment from the 


ideal conditions assumed in theory. Differences or inequalities, as 
distinct from equations, have played another role, but a crucial 
one, in opposed-systems analyses. This role has to do with the 
prominence of arguments of an a fortiori sort, running "even if . . .; 
then more so, since in fact...." In comparing alternative systems 
with one programmed, one cannot eliminate uncertainty, but 
one can assume that they will be resolved favorably from the 
standpoint of a dubious programmed system. One cannot avoid 
theoretical simplification, but one can design a model to favor 
the programmed or other losing systems and to give them the 
benefit of the doubt. Then if the comparison shows that, even with 
all the favors bestowed by the model's assumption, the system 
programmed or otherwise likely to be chosen is vastly inferior to 
an alternative, this offers substantial ground for choice. Moreover, 
it should not be surprising that bureaucrats exhibit enough inertia 
to make such a fortiori analyses possible and very useful, as some 
opposed-systems analyses have been. 

III. Links to Other Theories in International Relations 

A. Theories of Decision in International Affairs 

Opposed-systems designs have looked at the choices avail- 
able for government decision-makers where such decisions 
are interdependent with decisions of other governments. This 
concern connects them in an obvious way with theories of 
decision-making in international politics of the sort associated 
with Richard Snyder, H. W. Bruck, B. Sapin, and J. A. Robinson. 
However, not just these scholars but most theorists of international 
relations are, in one way or another, concerned with the foreign- 
policy decisions of governments, or the decisions of international 
organizations. A good many such theorists, including many of the 
behavioralists, take decision processes and decision-makers as 
their main subject matter: for example, they study how decision- 
makers behave in crisis. Indeed, Rosecrance and Mueller, in a 
sympathetic and knowledgeable but critical review of academic 
quantitative studies of the last decade (those using factor analysis, 
content analysis, international simulation, and the measurement 
of communication flows) make the point that these studies 
cannot be dismissed as they are by the classicists because they 
sometimes use rather indirect measures, since the "truly relevant 
information" for both the classical and the newer studies would 
be data on the processes of government planning and decision 


and is "scarcely ever available until long after the event. "^^ 
Rosecrance and Mueller assume, in other words, that the proper 
subject matter for study is the decisions themselves — that theory 
should be mainly, so to speak, meta-decisional. It seems doubtful 
that as much of the focus of inquiry in the traditional literature 
has been meta-decisional. On the other hand, an opposed-systems 
design will deal with the factors that affect and are the subject of 
decision rather than only or mainly the decision process and the 
decision-maker. It will deal with such matters as the deployment 
of radars, the amount of warning available along various routes 
against various attacks and how this might be changed, or 
with the number of tons per day that can be lifted to support 
a blockaded population, like Berlin's, or with the number of 
kilograms of fissile material that might be diverted from peaceful 
uses in a nuclear power plant designed to generate electricity, 
given specified inspection arrangements under an international 
atomic energy authority. It will be concerned with analyzing and 
designing methods of control and response in crises. Crises in fact 
are likely to be taken as a test of deterrent systems. It will also 
look at patterns of behavior of various decision-makers, including 
inert and other irrational forms of behavior. But unlike most of 
the social-psychological studies with which I am familiar, an 
opposed-systems design would be likely to concentrate on the 
substantive consequences of the various alternative decisions 
that might be taken, and how these consequences might satisfy or 
disappoint the multiple ends of the governments concerned. 

B. Potential Wars 

Opposed-systems analyses have focused on how our national, 
alliance or interadversary choices might affect the likelihood and 
likely outcomes of various sorts of combat. This focus is clearly 
related to a main, historic way of looking at relations among states 
at least since Hobbes and Rousseau, who viewed the anarchy of 
sovereign independent nations as a state of war — actual fighting 
or perpetual anticipation and preparation for it. In the United 
States the powerful tradition of realism in international theory has, 
of course, shown a large concern with military power relations 
among states. But in one way or another almost all approaches to 
international affairs must cover this ground en route. 

Realist geopolitical theories of the balance of power have been 
useful in calling our attention to the interests and aims of nation- 
states and the way such interests might be realized or bounded by 


their relative military strengths. Not only the theoretical essays, 
but some of the theoretically-oriented realist historical works — 
such as Tang Tsou's monumental study of the American Failure 
in China, 1945-51 — heiMe been persuasive and illuminating. But 
realist theories are often content to dichotomize interests into 
"vital" and "nonvital." For some purposes such gross distinctions 
may be serviceable. The functionalists in international law use 
this rough division to suggest areas which states will not entrust 
to international adjudication and those they might. ^^ Postal 
service and cultural exchange seem clearly not vital. However, 
for purposes of weighing actions that might lead to war, such a 
simple dichotomy is hardly enough. In this connection, as often 
as not, a "vital" interest is simply defined as one that a nation 
would fight for. This definition has crowned many a tautology 
in which, for example, some respected foreign-policy expert 
warns Congress that it would be a mistake to suppose that 
China would not fight if it felt its vital interests were at stake; 
or perhaps reassures Congress that China will not fight unless 
its vital interests are at stake — two pieces of wisdom derivable 
by definition rather than by long experience as a China hand. 
A great many aims of a nation-state may be incompatible with 
aims strongly held by other nations or coalitions of nations, and 
actions in furthering such aims may risk war. But just how much 
they risk war and how much war itself would put at risk can vary 
from the insignificant to the catastrophic. Much more explicit 
and systematic treatment of goals and interests, and the costs of 
fulfilling them, is needed for purposes of policy decision, and is 
needed in an opposed-system analysis to aid decision. 

Balance-of -power theories have come in for a flood of criticism, 
much of it centering on the term "balance. "^^ While the many 
ambiguities in the notion of equilibrium used in such theories 
are worth pointing out, I do not think that they are very hard to 
clarify and correct. A concept of equilibrium and the associated 
notions of stability and instability have been useful in social as 
well as biological and physical science. Handled with care, they 
can be fruitful in theories of international relations. The notion of 
"power" itself, which in these contexts has had considerably less 
critical scrutiny, is something else again. Even when it is conceived 
as military strength, rather than in the broader and vaguer terms 
of any capability to "affect" the behavior of others, it bristles with 
alternative meanings, and sometimes seems bereft of all. These 
lacks sharply limit the uses to which the traditional theories of the 
power relations among states can be put. 


Among traditional theorists even acute critics of balance-of- 
power theories implicitly take power as if it were measurable 
by a simple arithmetic quantity. In this respect they are like the 
objects of their critique. Case studies of the balance of power have 
frequently described quite concretely the military forces arrayed 
on opposing sides: the numbers of army divisions, tanks, aircraft, 
ships of various types, and so on; and also the broad geophysical 
setting: oceans, land masses, ranges of mountains, and so on. 
However, such specifics are inputs, not outputs of "power," 
which, even though it may be tacitly assumed to be a single 
quantity, is undefined. These inputs offer only impressionistic 
grounds for judging the outcome of any concrete conflict. But in 
international affairs we are interested in the possible outcomes of 
a great many conceivable interactions among nations. These vary 
from subversion and guerrilla actions, through classic naval or 
ground engagements in the homeland of major antagonists or in 
some distant theater of war, to the results of nuclear exchanges 
under a variety of circumstances of outbreak. A country with few 
classical military forces and no nuclear capability might be able 
to manipulate covert force effectively. The delivery range and 
destructive radius of weapons and the problems of supporting 
operations logistically vary for different circumstances and kinds 
of conflict, and at various times. No single, one-dimensional 
quantity will characterize the range of capabilities usually 
intended when we talk of military "power." Strength, in short, is 
a vector with many components. It takes a good many numbers 
to describe the outcomes that interest us. And systematic analysis 
may be needed to project even one. 

Just as we can be reasonably sure that postal services don't 
engage "vital" interests of sovereign nations in conflict, so some 
questions about the relations of force between nation-states are 
gross enough to be settled on the basis of the impressions about 
air and naval power and oceans and continental land masses. But 
a good many others cannot, though they are susceptible to subtler 
and more systematic analysis. 

On military power relations among states, the behavioral 
studies and the quantitative approaches that are usually 
contrasted with traditional theories of international relations do 
not seem to me to be a decided advance. On power relationships 
the empirical work has been slight; the theory has been too 
general to be both meaningful and true. Perhaps the slightness is 
due to a kind of shunning of the subject. For, as I have suggested, 
though behavioralists may contrast their approach with the 


traditionalists mainly in terms of method, there seem to be 
differences in subject matter as well. With a few exceptions, the 
empirical quantitative work with which I am familiar has been 
concerned with international organization and integration, and 
where it has been concerned with conflict, the social-psychological 
analyses have dealt with subjects like national and international 
images that might create tension, or decision processes in crisis, 
or the tendencies of individual decision-makers to distrust the 
governments of other countries or to see them as threatening. I 
know of little work, however, on the actual military potentialities 
of the various states in relation to others and how these might 
affect the threats as well as how the threats are perceived. 

As for theory, let me take by way of illustration the question 
of how military strength varies with distance. I have treated this 
at length elsewhere^^ and here can indicate only schematically 
the results. Nonetheless, this example may serve to display 
some of the characteristic continuities and differences among (1) 
traditional theories, (2) the rather general "behavioral" theories, 
and (3) opposed-systems analyses of power relations among 

(1) In traditional theories of international relations, some 
references to distance or proximity and their effects are implicit. 
Sometimes they appear in describing the possibility of conflict 
itself. The abundance of Rousseau's idyllic state of nature had 
something to do with the fact that enough space separated men 
to enable them to satisfy their desires without seriously clashing 
with each other. And in the much less idyllic condition of anarchy 
among the states in Europe, Rousseau's vivid description of their 
unstable configuration is made in terms of their close juxtaposition, 
touching "each other at so many points that no one of them 
can move without giving a deadly jar to all the rest." A casual 
survey of classic writings on the anarchy of independent states 
turns up a multiplicity of references to problems of equilibrium 
of unconnected sovereigns "in the same neighborhood."^^ The 
power to do harm has limits in range, and so space would seem to 
provide not only more room for satisfying goals without jostling 
but also a cushion of safety. Of course, "neighborhood" is a 
qualitative term, and it is apparent that vicinities are elastic and 
have stretched in several dimensions with time and improvements 
in communication, transport, and optimal weapons range. The 
qualitative condition assumes only that states are close enough to 
have reason for conflict and means to fight each other. However, 
not infrequently traditional balance-of -power theories are talking 


about essentially quantitative relationships, even though they 
present them informally and in everyday language rather than in 
symbols. This is true, for example, of the geopolitical treatments 
of the way military strength varies with distance, that underlie 
some of the familiar notions of spheres of influence. So, for 
example, Spykman: "Power is effective in inverse ratio from its 
source"^^; and Kennan: "... the effectiveness of the power radiated 
from any national center decreases in proportion to the distance 
involved. "^'^ 

The assumption of a sharp weakening of strength with 
distance underpins much of the recent discussion of the need to 
reduce American commitments (though, of course, the motivation 
of the debate has less to do with theory than with the frustrations 
of the Vietnamese war). The theory runs: Great powers can use 
force to keep distant great challengers at a distance from areas 
near their border, their "sphere of influence"; this makes possible 
a balance which is best left alone; it protects at the same time as 
it limits the interests of opposing states, and in any case it cannot 
successfully be upset. 

It is both a strength and a weakness of this traditional theory 
of a proportionate weakening of strength with distance that 
its purity is marred by qualifications about differences in the 
variation of strength over air, sea, and land distances. References 
to "air powers" or "naval powers" versus "land powers" make 
evident that the pure theory needs qualification, but do not make 
clear just how such qualification can he effected. Some of the more 
formal quantitative theories on the other hand are quite pure. 

(2) Kenneth Boulding has formulated a general theory of 
conflict and defense that is intended to comprehend the relation to 
distance of both classical or conventional strength and the strength 
of current forces of "world-wide range. "^^ (The traditional theory 
I have outlined contemplates classical strength only.) His theory 
states in brief: In the classical case the amount of strength provided 
out of given resources decreases, or the cost of maintaining a 
fixed amount of strength increases, linearly with distance; stable 
equilibria between widely separated large and small powers 
are therefore possible; but in the case of contemporary delivery 
technology, the loss of strength with distance vanishes, as does 
also the chance of stable systems of national defense. 

Boulding' s mathematical model is derived from models devel- 
oped by Harold Hotelling and Arthur Smithies for the analysis 
of the spatial competition between economic firms distributed in 
a line. It involves some simple linear differential equations, for 


which he offers as one interpretation: two countries, with their 
homes at points A and B respectively, each have a certain number 
of men who can be devoted to fighting; at a point outside the home 
countries, say between A and B, some out of the total number of 
men that each can muster have to be devoted to supporting the 
fighters, leaving fewer to fight; the farther out from A and nearer 
to B the fighters from A go, the more bearers are needed and so 
there are fewer fighters. ("Bearing" or "supporting" can be used 
inclusively to mean all activities other than fighting needed to 
make fighting possible.) If the forces available to A at home are 
larger than those available to B at home, they may still reach some 
point of equality in number of fighters at some point in between 
that is nearer to B. Though the theory is essentially a logistic one, 
it is assumed that at the point of equality the conflict is going to be 
a tie, hence an equilibrium point. 

Boulding's model is static as well as linear. It has the virtue, 
however, of being more precisely simple than the traditional 
theory, which it generalizes slightly. Like the traditional theory, it 
assumes that strength is one-dimensional. (Boulding recognizes at 
one point that strength is really multi-dimensional, but dismisses 
this as a second-order effect,^^ as he dismisses deviations from 
linearity as minor. ^') 

(3) It is possible to look more closely at various components 
of strength and how they vary with distance and to pay attention 
to a host of variables absent or implicitly held constant in a simple 
model, formal or informal. For either classical or nuclear strength 
one can examine not merely logistics or combat delivery, but also 
the attempts to interdict supplies and to use offense or defense to 
blunt opposing fire. And even so far as logistics is concerned, one 
can look at the alternative systems of transport available at any 
given time, at the result of varying allocations of resources to the 
purchase of lift or other support capabilities, and at changes in the 
technology of transport and communications at a distance. If one 
does this, in realistic, empirical detail, it is apparent that the linear 
picture of one-dimensional strength declining with distance is not 
merely a vast oversimplification of reality; it is wrong. In the first 
place, at any given time, and especially today when the range of 
possible sorts of conflict has increased dramatically, strength (as 
we have suggested) cannot be measured by a single arithmetic 
quantity, but by a sequence of many; and so for loss of strength. 
This is by no means a second-order effect. Equilibrium points that 
balance the strengths of two nations with respect to one component 
of the vector will not in general coincide with points that equalize 


strength with respect to other components. And problems of 
the stability of equilibrium are much more complicated for both 
theory and practice. 

Second, even when we look at components of strength, neither 
nuclear nor nonnuclear components behave like the simple linear 
picture. I shall sketch the results of some relevant close analyses of 
nonnuclear cases in the 1960s: the support capabilities in possible 
wars in Himalayan India and in Thailand by China on the one 
hand and the United States on the other. And I shall also outline 
a few of the results of an extensive nuclear study — the variation 
with critical distances of various sorts of nuclear strength during 
the 1950s. 

Take the nonnuclear cases. Following Boulding, the linear 
model of decrease of strength with distance may be represented 
in the case of two powers with unequal home strength as a 
kind of lopsided M with legs of different heights representing 
the strengths of each of the two powers at home, and with the 
two slanting members meeting at a point nearer the shorter leg. 
Something like: 


The vertical legs represent the strengths at home of the two 
countries; the slanting lines show how the strength declines at 
various distances away from home toward the adversary. The 
point at which they meet is their equilibrium point. 

This simple picture, I believe, is a fair representation of what 
a good many columnists and members of Congress have in mind 
when they talk of comparative disadvantages to the United States 
in fighting eight or ten thousand miles away from home against 
an adversary whose home base is near the scene of conflict. A 
curve representing the lift capability of the United States from 
its borders to the China-India border in the Himalayas and a 
Chinese capability from Cheng-tu-Szechwan to the same points 
in the Himalayas looks very different. It is both nonlinear and 
discontinuous. One such curve is shown in the accompanying 
Figure 1. Another such curve in Figure 2 shows the change in 
support capability of each side as a function of distance from 
home to battle on the Thai-Laos border. 

The most striking fact displayed by these figures, however, is 
that the long-distance lift capacity of each side massively exceeds 


their short-distance lift inside the theater, especially in the very 
short ranges in which the battle would be joined. But these 
bottlenecks inside the theater are to a very considerable extent 
determined by local factors: harbors, ports and loading facilities, 
railroad and road capacities, etc. They are not a function of the 
long-haul distances. The dramatic sweep of the curves showing, 
for example, the first 8,100 miles of hauling from the United States, 
while it catches the headlines and affects intuitive judgments, 
hardly determines the results. The bottlenecks are inside the 
theater. The important factors are the unimportant-looking little 
ripples in the cascade at the bottom of the chart which are so small 
that, in the Indian case, we have used a balloon within a balloon 
to magnify them enough to be visible. Nearly the same is true 
in the Thai-Laos case, where the United States from 8,500 miles 
away can lift four times as much to the Thai-Laos border as China 
can from 450 miles off; and U.S. capability in the combat zone is a 
small fraction of its long-haul capability. 

If one looks at it in cost terms, the minor importance of the 
long haul appears even more vividly. It can be shown that adding 
several thousand miles to the distance at which remote wars are 
fought adds a very tiny percentage to the cost of fighting such 

The curves displayed, it should be stressed, are the result of 
a great deal of grubby, inglorious empirical work using a variety 
of detailed operational models to calculate the capacity of road 
nets in various seasons and a host of other laborious but necessary 
inquiries. One might be tempted to dismiss such labors as of little 
theoretical importance. However, they are important both for 
policy and for theory. Intuition on such matters is not enough, 
even when presented in formal mathematical dress. The curves 
show this. 





Fir;. 1. Lift fnim UnilcJ Stdlcf maiiiLind iind Ftoei SiSfc^ivi-.Tr 

[je* detail obsvc) 

Or|i,:n[-Ii,d[i| luinltr. 



PHANOM-v/ (LAOS) Border 

DETAIL: Bongkok fo Nokorn Phanom 
versus Chinese border to Thcik^ek 

Chino/MVN border 

2 3 4 5 6 
Tfiouiands of miles 

(see del^oil cbovi 

Fifi. a. Lift frflfli Uilik-d States miiQl^nd iiml Ciiinti Ijordei to Tliili-Liirts liiirdcn 
( Wolllslttlcr and Hoinejr, 19{t0.) 


The nuclear case also behaves quite differently from the 
assumption. First, if we neglect opposition by offense or defense, 
the costs of nuclear strength on the linear model should not 
increase significantly with distance. In fact, they do, and more 
than linearly; that is, more than the model suggests even for 
nonnuclear strength. (The formal linear model of strength 
weakening with distance also neglects opposition.) Cost curves 
for the 1950s generation of subsonic turbojets have an J-shaped 
form, rising asymptotically at points less than the maximum base- 
target distance, and costs of tanker refueling systems increase in 
steps at an increasing rate. Ground refueled systems increase 
in steps modestly. (Among other things, this suggests the wide 
variation at any given time in cost-radius curves depending on the 
choice of system.) 

In the nuclear case, if one takes into account opposition by 
offense and defense — which means examining a very large 
number of potential conflicts and the interdependent choices of 
both sides in these conflicts — then the situation is reversed; it is 
even further from the simple linear model. Then the costs of a 
nuclear second-strike capability in the 1950s decrease sharply 
and effectiveness increases if operating bases are kept far back 
at intercontinental range. The decrease in costs and the increase 
in effectiveness, however, are not monotonic. While an overseas 
base system close to adversary attack was vulnerable, as well as 
difficult to support, an intermediate operating base system was 
even more costly and almost as vulnerable, with nearly all of the 
defects of the overseas base system plus a good many others of 
its own (extremely high aerial refueling costs, etc.). In fact, the 
intermediate operating base system combined the defects of the 
vulnerable overseas operating base system with the defects of 
an extremely high-cost, exclusively air-refueled intercontinental 
system. The latter was considered and rejected as an alternative 
to an intercontinental ground-refueled system. Against moderate 
enemy offense the least costly system was the intercontinental 
ground-refueled system. The advanced overseas base system 
was some 50 percent higher, and an intercontinental air-refueled 
system was roughly double the cost. The intermediate system was 
nearly triple the cost. Against a more formidable enemy offense 
the advanced overseas operating base system became about as 
expensive as the exclusively air-refueled intercontinental system. 
The intercontinental ground-refueled system remained cheapest 


and the intermediate system remained worst, being more than 
three times as costly for a given performance. 

The importance of distance for the determination of nuclear 
strength is not merely a phenomenon of the 1950s. While the nature 
of the dependency changes, some large country examples (like 
the American extended-range Minuteman III and the enormous 
expenditures to increase the range of submarine-launched missiles) 
show the continuing importance of such complex dependency in 
the 1970s. And the troubles to be experienced by the medium-sized 
and smaller nth countries illustrate the continuing importance of 
distance even more vividly. 

Sociologists and students of international politics have 
frequently referred to the maximum range of individual aircraft 
or missiles and the growth of this maximum range over calendar 
time as an indicator of the increasing capabilities for projecting 
military strength or civilian transport and travel and the 
consequent increasing interdependence of the world. Boulding's 
use of this parameter is then a familiar one.^" However, while 
maximum delivery range or maximum speed of individual 
aircraft or maximum destructive radius of current explosives are 
suggestive, they are inadequate measures of strength. They deal 
with performance only crudely and leave out costs altogether. 
There is, for example, no direct connection between the maximum 
range of individual vehicles and national capabilities to do battle 
at a distance. Even if one neglects the subtler considerations of 
performance affected by interactions with adversaries, the factor 
of cost is essential. The nuclear propelled airplane, for example, 
a vehicle of very extended range, could be established in the 
1950s as a poor way of projecting strength, one that would lower 
capabilities for fixed resources. This became obvious when one 
considered even a crudely measured performance for an entire 
system to be bought and operated out of a given budget. The unit 
costs were so high that adopting the system would have meant, 
for a fixed expenditure of resources, a decided reduction in the 
strength we could project even nearby. 

Finally, the belief that stable nuclear equilibria are impossible 
owes its origin to some of the hoariest conceptions of the nuclear 
age. It neglects, among a good many other critical matters, 
the difference between first- and second-strike capabilities. 
Such stabilities are feasible, but limited and uncertain and not 


C. Specifics and the General: Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads 

I have tried to describe some of the features of opposed- 
systems analyses, and some of their chief limitations to date, and 
I have used as illustration some results that bear on variations 
of strength with distance. The models used in opposed-systems ■ 
design are plainly not intended to cover all the characteristics 
of all possible relations among nation-states from the Treaty 
of Westphalia on, nor all of the data that have been generated 
by agencies reporting on one or another aspect of the various 
nation-states or their intercourse. They are limited and partial. It 
is sometimes suggested by writers on some future international 
theory that one has the alternative of constructing a partial or 
limited theory on the one hand, or a total or general theory on 
the other. However, no theory is "total" in the sense that it deals 
with all possible traits of any given subject matter, and the notion 
of "generality" is an ambiguous one. Sometimes when one says 
that theory T^ is more general than theory T^, one means that T^ 
is a special case of T^ and deducible from it. T^ is more powerful, 
has more content. On the other hand, sometimes one says T^ is 
more general than T^ when it is a proper part of T^— as a geometry 
may be a proper part of a physical theory, and so may have less 
content. Or one may call a theory general because it has some 
undetermined parameters. In that case it is not an empirical 
statement. It might become one if operationally meaningful 
constants are substituted for the parameters, or if the parameters 
can be "bound," that is, said to hold for all or some values. For 
such parameters are, of course, really variables. They are blanks, 
pronouns without antecedents. Like some economic models, 
some of the formal models in international politics may be of this 

Boulding's own general theory is general in this sense. A great 
deal of it consists in elementary truths of analytic geometry. These 
identify various regions of a quarter plane as regions of stability 
or instability. Though such statements yield categories of possible 
systems, they have no empirical content specific to international 
conflict. And the curves that divide the quarter plane, like the 
straight lines we have examined, have slight empirical relevance. 
In fact, the notion of "strength" as such is given no operational 
content. A typology of possible systems may be of use, but it 
is important to be clear that one is dealing with taxonomy, not 
with theoretical laws (much less "the great law of diminishing 


strength with distance"^^). It is all too easy in constructing such 
a model, as I have remarked elsewhere, to get the exhilarating 
feeling that one is filling holes when one is only outlining them. 
Boulding contrasts his own theoretical bias with the sociological 
and taxonomic bias of political scientists working on types of 
international systems. He exaggerates the contrast. There is 
nothing wrong with taxonomy. It can be a most useful stage in 
preparation for the formulation of laws, but for this purpose one 
has to be clear about the difference. 

The work of the Quaker physicist, L. F. Richardson, after 
some vicissitudes of attempted statistical testing, tends now also 
to be reduced to typology. Richardson started out by formulating 
differential equations of a very simple form, relating the rate of 
increase of arms expenditures of each side in any arms competition 
to the amount of the expenditures of the other side. The equations 
are essentially the same as the Lanchester equations described 
earlier except that the variables refer not to initial forces of each 
side but to the annual arms expenditures, and the right-hand side 
of the equation is positive. The familiar solution is an exponential, 
suggesting that arms expenditures lead to explosive arms races 
and (with some lacunae in the inference) to wars. Richardson 
began with this simple relationship about the time of World War 
I, but in the course of the interwar debates introduced extra terms 
and parameters into his equations to take into partial account 
such countervailing influences as budget constraints. There are 
enough terms and parameters in the equations to make them fit 
just about any actual configuration of arms expenditures. And the 
theory, which has been revived in recent years and is now rather 
frequently cited,^^ has become essentially a taxonomy, a way of 
classifying stable and unstable parameter values. 

Richardson was an original and able research man. But there 
are some rather large drawbacks in the typologies obtained from 
the use of his equations. Constraints like those of a budget are 
introduced only in a very inadequate and unrevealing way, with 
no explicit reference to alternative choice. On the other hand, I 
know of no persuasive historical example of the simple sort of 
explosive arms process he had originally in mind where the extra 
terms are of minor importance. The one historical case that some 
contemporary commentators have called a "fairly successful"^^ 
application involved, among other substantial defects, only five 
observations in all on annual differences in arms expenditures 
before World War I. Hardly enough to be convincing. It will be 


no fault of Richardson's if, out of our madness for method, we 
accept the forms of these equations as a substitute for substance, 
and make them a permanent addition to our gadgetry. 

Fundamental theories with a very wide range of reference 
may be based on common experience rather than on systematic 
empirical tests, and they may say very little about any particular 
subject matter. But they nonetheless can have great importance. 
It is not my intention to disparage them. On the contrary, several 
theories with a much wider range than any we have discussed 
throw light on the structure of interdependent choices much 
more fundamentally and inclusively than any study of national or 
international choice. For example, the mathematical developments 
of von Neumann, or more recently of Lloyd Shapley and others in 
game theory, or the less rigorously formal theories of bargaining 
and strategy of conflict in the sense of Schelling: these again are 
much more general than a study of international politics. 

Nonetheless, it would be a rather arbitrary usage to limit 
application of the term "theory," still more of "explanation," to 
works of such a high degree of generality; still more arbitrary 
to limit it to models with undetermined parameters, sentential 
functions rather than completed universal "if..., then.. ." statements. 
Discussions of this subject tend to be muddled by a dichotomy 
sometimes used between the "nomothetic" or law-like and the 
"idiographic" that concerns particular, named objects, "some." 
However, it is apparent that no statement— not even a singular 
statement about individual objects — is idiographic in the sense 
that it only concerns particulars. We say, for example, that such- 
and-such an individual object bears some relation to such-another 
one: "Jill tumbles after Jack." If we aspire to say something 
rather than mutely to point, we have to ascribe properties, class 
membership, relationships. And, on the other hand, very many 
quite respectable laws contain references to particulars. They 
contain the operator "all" in uneliminable fashion. But they 
also use the operator "some," and may name individual objects. 
Kepler's laws for solar orbits, for example, make up an important 
theory, even though they refer to a subject restricted both in space 
and time. Moreover, though this theory seems obvious to us now 
(every new idea. Whitehead reminds us, has been called obvious by 
someone who did not discover it), it was in fact a most precarious 
inference from the astronomical observations available at the time. 
Peirce found that there were 79 alternative theories that Kepler 
tried before hitting on one that worked. Kepler's theory is less 


general than Newton's, whose inverse-square law later showed 
that bodies would move in an orbit that is a conic section, with the 
origin of the central force at the focus. But even then, to derive 
the elliptical form of solar orbits one needs to know the relative 
masses and the relative velocities of the sun and the planets — all 
individuals — and to neglect perturbing effects of some distant 
masses. It is even possible, if we accept a hypothesis propounded 
by the French physicist Duhem and also by Peirce, that all the laws 
of nature, such as Newton's and quantum mechanics, hold within 
the margin of error of our observations only for very, very long 
historical epochs. It is conceivable that the relations are slowly 
changing. In that case, of course, all laws would be restricted in 
space and time. 

The word "theory" is used in the field of political science 
rather differently from its most familiar usage in the natural 
sciences, or in economics. It is frequently reserved for very basic 
studies in the philosophy of politics, and sometimes for studies 
in the history of the philosophy of politics. These seem to me to 
be valid enterprises, interesting and rewarding. And, though 
the word "theory" has, at least in academic circles, a eulogistic 
character, it would be a waste to spend much time arguing for the 

Like some of the more general empirical theories, and unlike 
some of the crude empirical statistical associations, the models 
used in opposed-systems analyses are essentially general. A good 
many of the statements in them refer to domains of potential 
operations and cannot be reduced to statements about individuals. 
They are idealizations. They are hypothetical, like some of the 
more general theories. However, if I may borrow a phrase from 
Marianne Moore, these are "imaginary gardens with real toads in 
them." The restriction in time permits great specificity in input, 
the use of laws with bound variables and genuine constants rather 
than sentential functions, and a richness in detailed conclusions. 

Very general theories and some simplified small-group 
experiments are sometimes used to justify policy conclusions, 
even though some essential specifics are lacking. Much of the 
discussion of the state of strategic forces on the international scene 
is discouragingly innocent of an awareness of even the relevance 
of specific information, not to say of the information itself. It 
makes a good deal of difference whether a strategic force is based 
on 400 bases or on 28. It makes a difference whether a third of 
the force is in the air at all times, with fuel tanks full enough to 


complete a combat mission, armed with all the necessary electronic 
equipment and other preparations; or only four percent of the 
force, and that almost entirely on training missions, unarmed, 
and on the average inadequately fuelled for combat. It makes 
a difference whether the tactical warning provided by radars 
along feasible routes and profiles of attack matches the degree of 
readiness and speed of response of the forces warned. In the 1950s 
a great many members of the academic community, as well as 
journalists and members of governments, were in error on each of 
these and a good many other essential factors affecting capacities 
for second strike, and yet spoke rather blithely about policy on the 
subject. Many analyses of the Cuban missile crisis are affected by 
the same carefree indifference to essential features of the military 
stance of each side. Some of these data are, of course, governed 
by rules of secrecy and, even with all the data available, inference 
must be uncertain. However, such uncertainty can be reduced 
with information, and on a good many critically important 
military relations among states, the effects that dominate results 
are gross enough to show up in public data, provided these are 
gathered diligently and analyzed systematically and with care. 
Some very interesting things can be said, for example, about nth 
countries only on the basis of such empirical analysis, and on 
the basis of using a logical apparatus considerably more refined 
than a few bare distinctions like that between "vulnerable" and 
"invulnerable" force. 

An opposed-systems analysis is at the level of generality 
appropriate to policy choice. This is, of course, not surprising, 
since that is how opposed-systems analysis got started. I have 
said very little about the relationship of policy to valid theory. 
In the field of international politics, an interest in policy hardly 
needs justification. Just about everyone in the field is interested 
in policy. I am using the word "interest" in both of its meanings: 
they are fascinated by it and have a stake in it. I believe that the 
likelihood of useful analyses for the choice of ends — and of means 
for achieving such ends — is enhanced if the analyses are systematic 
and explicit about objectives as well as instrumentalities; for one 
thing, they are then open both to self-criticism and to public 
examination. How analyses performed to aid policy might affect 
policy is a subject that has received extended comment. I would 
like to close with a speculation on the theoretical potential of 
policy designs. 

There is, of course, an old academic snobbery about applied 
science in general. Applied science is distinctly lower-class. Such 


snobbery affects the social sciences, too. It is clear that work on 
policy needs theory. The fact that this can be a two-way street, 
while sometimes recognized in the natural sciences, seems 
much less frequently, if at all, to be recognized in the social 
sciences. It is familiar to historians of science that, in the words 
of the philosophical biologist, L. J. Henderson, thermodynamics 
owes more to the steam engine than the steam engine owes to 
thermodynamics. This is evident in the work of Sadi Carnot. It 
seems plausible to me that something of the same sort might hap- 
pen in social science. It may be that well-evidenced generalizations 
will be easier to come by where they concern or stem from 
alternative designed operations and social structures — especially 
where these structures involve complex interdependencies of 
men and machines — than where they stem from the haphazard 
reports of the workings of unpremeditated institutions that 
have grown mostly without intent. In the latter case, research 
men are sometimes reduced to correlating each time-series so 
gathered with every other time-series in their possession. Though 
designed social structures or policy alternatives are normally 
quite complex in the field of political-military affairs, they may 
be rather better understood or more accessible to understanding 
than the unpremeditated complexities normally dealt with in the 
social sciences. On the other hand, they may be more interesting 
because they are complex and have more direct social relevance 
than small-group experiments. While such experiments are, of 
course, the work of design, and may be of great interest, it is 
sometimes rather hard to make the inferential jump from the 
small experimental group to the large social or political groupings 
that concern us. 

There is no single best path through the tangle of international 
politics to basic theory. One useful trail may lead through the 
analysis and design of complex systems that are viable in a world 
of partially hostile and independent states. 

ENDNOTES - Wohlstetter - Theory and Opposed-Systems 

Note: The original version of this essay contains in-text citations 
and a list of works cited at the end. In this version, in-text citations were 
converted into endnotes. Text hounded by square brackets generally 
indicates such a conversion. 


1. [Burton Marshall, "Waiting for the Curtain," SAIS Review, 
Vol. 10, No. 4, Summer 1966, p. 21.] 

2. The term "essentially general" is adapted from C. G. 
Hempel. [Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation, New York, NY: 
Free Press, 1965, pp. 338ff.] An elaboration of this initial statement 
is made later in the section entitled "Specifics and the General: 
Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads." For those familiar with 
the symbolism of mathematical logic, a partial and summary 
statement can be made at this point: essentially general statements 
include, besides those containing no individual names and only 
universally bound variables, some that may refer to individual 
objects, as Kepler's laws refer to the sun and its planets: they may 
for example, be of the form "( x )Rxa." Or they may use existential 
quantifiers such as the word "some" or the symbol "(ax)": they 
may be of the form "(x) (3y)Rxy." But they also irreducibly in- 
volve universal quantifiers like the words "all" or "every" or the 
symbol "( x)." 

3. See [Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Robert J. Lutz, 
and Henry S. Rowen, The Selection of Strategic Air Bases, R-244-S, 
special staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, March 
1, 1953, TOP SECRET, declassified on July 1, 1963, available from\; 
and [Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Henry S. Rowen, and 
Robert J. Lutz, The Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases, R-266, 
final report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, April 1954, 
TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1961, available from www.rand. 
org/pubs/reports/R0266/\ . 

4. [Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, and Henry S. Rowen, 
Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, R-290, 
staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, September 1, 
1956, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1960s, availabl e from www. AW-EtAl-R290.pdf\ 

5. [Albert J. Wohlstetter and Fred S. Hoffman, Defending a 
Strategic Force After 1960: With Notes on the Need by Both Sides for 
Accurate Bomb Delivery, Particularly for the Big Bombs, D-2270, Santa 
Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, February 1, 1954, available from] 


6.[F. W. Lanchester, Aircraft in Wartime: The Dawn of the Fourth 
Arm, London, UK: Constable, 1916.] 

7. [R. E. Bach, L. Dolansky, and H. L. Stubbs, "A Loss 
Minimizing Extension of the Lanchester Theory of Combat," 
Sc. Rpt., No. 3, Contract AF 19 (604)-4573, AD 235019, AFCRC- 
TN-60-168, Northeastern University, January 31, I960]; [P. M. S. 
Blackett, "Operational Research," Quarterly Journal of the British 
Association for the Advancement of Science, No. 5, 1948, pp. 26- 
38]; [H. Brackney, "Dynamics of Military Combat," Operations 
Research, No. 7, 1959, pp. 30-44]; [R. H. Brown, A Stochastic Analysis 
of Lanchester' s Theory of Combat, ORO-T-323, AD 82944, Operations 
Research Office, Johns Hopkins University, December 1955]; [S. J. 
Deitchman, "A Lanchester Model of Guerrilla Warfare, Operations 
Research, No. 10, 1962, pp. 818-827]; [J. H. Engel, "A Verification 
of Lanchester's Law," Operations Research, No. 2, 1954, pp. 163- 
171]; [G. A. Gamow and R. E. Zimmerman, Mathematical Models 
for Ground Combat, ORO-SP-11, Operations Research Office, Johns 
Hopkins University, April 1957]; [T. Ganelius, "Mathematical 
Treatment of Combat," Artilleri Tidskrift, No. 3, 1955, p. 84]; [B. 
O. Koopman, Quantitative Aspect of Combat, Office of Scientific 
Research and Development, AMP Note No. 6, August 1943]; [F. W. 
Lanchester, Aircraft in Warfare: The Dawn of the Fourth Arm, London, 
U.K.: Constable, 1916]; [P. M. Morse, "Mathematical Problems in 
Operations Research," Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 
No. 54, 1948, pp. 619-621]; [C. Tompkins, "Probabilistic Problems 
and Military Evaluation: An Example," Logistics Papers, No. 2, 
George Washington University, 1950]; [H. K. Weiss, Requirements 
for a Theory of Combat, BRL Memo Report No. 667, Project No. TB 
3-0102, Ballistic Research Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, 
April 1953]; [Weiss, "Lanchester-type Models of Warfare," 
Proceedings of the First International Conference, Operations Research, 
December 1957, pp. 82-99]; [Weiss, "The Fiske Model of Warfare," 
Operations Research, No. 10, 1962, pp. 569-571]; and [D. Willard, 
"Lanchester as a Force in History: An Analysis of Land Battles 
of the Years 1618-1905," AD 29735L 63-1-5, Div. 18A, Bethesda, 
MD: Research Analysis Corporation, November 1962 (Limited 
distribution: Request approval of: Office, Chief of Research and 
Development, Department of the Army, Washington, DC, Attn: 
Research Planning Division)]. 

For a critical statement, see [Albert Wohlstetter and Richard 
B. Rainey, Jr., Distant Wars and Far Out Estimates, unpublished 


paper prepared for presentation at the American Political Science 
Association (APSA) meetings in New York, NY, on September 8, 
1966; and at the Strategic Studies Conference, sponsored by MIT, 
Endicott House, Dedham, MA, September 9 to September 11, 1966, 
revised 1967], and especially [Charles Bernstein, "Reconsidering 
Systems Analysis of Theater Air," paper presented at NATO 
Symposium on Defense Resource Allocation, Paris, France, 
September 20-22, 1966]. 

8. [J. H.Engel,"A Verification of Lanchester'sLaw," Operations 
Research, No. 2, 1954, pp. 163-171.] 

9. [Moshe Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, London, UK: 
George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966, p. 5.] 

10. [The Military Balance, 1966-1967, London, UK: Institute of 
Strategic Studies, 1967.] There is an error in the addition in the 
figures for Israeli aircraft. 

11. [Albert Wohlstetter, Strength, Interest and New Technologies, 
opening address before The Implications of Military Technology in the 
1970s, the Institute for Strategic Studies' ninth annual conference, 
Elsinore, Denmark, September 28 to October 1, 1967, D(L)-16624- 
PR, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, January 24, 1968, 
available from 
DL16624.html. The address was also published as Wohlstetter, 
Strength, Interest and New Technologies, in The Implications of 
Military Technology in the 1970s, Adelphi Papers No. 46, London, 
UK: Institute for Strategic Studies, March 1968.] 

12. [Charles J. Hitch, "On the Choice of Objectives in Systems 
Studies," P-1955, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, March 
1960, p. 2.] 

13. See [Albert Wohlstetter, "The Non-Strategic and Non- 
Existent," in Kathleen Archibald, ed.. Strategic Interaction and 
Conflict: Original Papers and Discussion, Berkeley, CA: Institute of 
International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1966, pp. 
107-126., esp. pp. 112-13]; also [Wohlstetter, "Defense Decisions: 
Design Versus Analysis," IFORS Conference, Aix-en-Provence, 
I960]; [Wohlstetter, "Analysis and Design of Conflict Systems," in 
E. S. Quade, ed.. Analysis for Military Decisions, Chicago, IL: Rand 


McNally & Co., 1964, pp. 103-148]; [E.S. Quade, "Introduction" and 
"The Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases: A Case History," 
in Quade, ed.. Analysis for Military Decisions, pp. 2-12, 24-64.]; 
[Alain C. Enthoven, "Systems Analysis and the Navy," Naval 
Review, Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1964, pp. 
98-117]; [Hitch, "On the Choice of Objectives in System Studies"]; 
[Henry S. Rowen, "Improving Decision-Making in Government," 
lecture for the Budget Bureau's 1965 summer seminar on systems 
analysis and program evaluation]; and [Fred S. Hoffman, "PPB, 
Its Place in the Sun," speech at the American Bankers Association, 
December 1967]. 

14. The point of view expressed here is developed at 
considerably greater length in [Wohlstetter, "Analysis and Design 
of Conflict Systems"]. 

15. Aaron Wildavsky, no radical critic, suggests the method 
is tied to the existing political structure. See [Wildavsky, "The 
Political Economy of Efficiency," The Public Interest, No. 8, Summer 
1967, pp 30-48]. 

16. One might distinguish the theory or design of strongly 
opposed systems from that of weakly opposed systems. In this 
paper I have dealt mainly with the kind of potential opposition 
familiar among nation states. While such opposition is only 
partial it may lead to actual combat and this possibility is a 
classic defining trait of the anarchic system of nation states. (See 
the section, "Potential Wars.") Where internal dissent from the 
institutions of the nation is large and powerful enough to interfere 
in essential ways with their operation or possibly to effect a 
change in them by force, much the same sort of analysis we have 
described as opposed systems design is relevant both for the 
dissenter and for the authorities. We might better call the subject 
matter of such theory and design, in both the international and 
national cases, "strongly opposed systems." But in the national 
case there are some useful analogies even where governmental 
or factional policies are more weakly opposed, where they do not 
threaten internal war. Even then policy in some areas may be best 
formulated with possible counter moves in mind. So, for example, 
policies aimed at desegregating schools (by bussing nonwhites to 
white schools or the reverse, or reducing the grade span of the city 
schools so as to widen and make more varied the ethnic catchment 


area from which pupils for any given school are drawn, and so 
on) may be met by a movement of the more privileged whites into 
private schools or out to the suburbs. Policies may be deliberately 
chosen so as to minimize the effects of such countermeasures. In 
designing systems that are "weakly" opposed, the opposition may 
be dealt with by methods that stress conciliation, compromise, and 
bargaining even more than in international affairs. But of course 
the difference is one of degree, and in the international case, too, 
compromise and conciliation are important modes of resolving 

17. A much more extended discussion is contained in 
[Wohlstetter, "Analysis and Design of Conflict Systems"]. 

18. For an extended analysis of the B-36 history, see [ibid.] . 

19. For a detailed account, see [William Emerson, "Doctrine 
and Dogma," Army, June 1963, pp. 818-827]. See also my essay 
in the Kaplan volume referred to under Falk (to be published). 
[Albert Wohlstetter, "Theory and Opposed Systems Design," in 
Morton A. Kaplan, ed.. New Approaches to International Relations, 
New York: St. Martin's, 1968, pp. 19-53.] 

20. [R. N. Rosecrance and J. E. Mueller, "Decision-Making 
and the Quantitative Analysis of International Politics," London 
Year Book of World Affairs, 1967.] 

21. See [Richard Falk, "New Approaches to the Study of 
International Law," in Kaplan, ed.. New Approaches to International 
Relations, p. 27]. 

22. See, for example, the cogent critiques by [Ernst B. Haas, 
"The Balance of Power: Prescription, Concept or Propaganda?" 

World Politics, No. 5, July 1953, pp. 442-477]; [Inis Claude, Power 
and International Relations, New York, NY: Random House, 1962, 
esp. chs. 2 and 3]; and [A. F. Pollard, "The Balance of Power," 
journal of the British Institute of International Affairs, No. 2, March 
1923, pp; 51-64]. 

23. [Wohlstetter and Rainey, Distant Wars and Par Out 


24 . See, for example. The FederaUstNo.6, by Alexander Hamilton: 
"To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of 
unconnected sovereigns, situated in the same neighborhood, 
would be to disregard the uniform course of human events." [The 
Federahst, Cleveland, OH: Meridian, Books, 1961, p. 28.] 

25. [Nicholas John Spykman, America's Strategy in World 
Politics, New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1942, p. 448.] 

26. [George Kennan, Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, 
New York, NY: Mentor Books, 1962, p. 261.] 

27. [Kenneth E. Boulding, Conflict and Defense, New York, NY: 
Harper and Row, 1962.] 

28. [Ibid., p. 241.] 

29. [Ibid., p. 231.] 

30. See [ibid., p. 272]. For a more or less standard sociological 
example, see [Hornell Hart, "Social Science and the Atomic Crisis, 
journal of Social Issues, Supplement Series No. 2, April 1949]. 
Compare also [Bruce M. Russett, Trends in World Politics, New 
York, NY: Macmillan, 1965, esp. ch. 1]. Mr. Russett, however, 
avoids the extrapolations into the future characteristic of Hart and 

31. [Boulding, p. 244.] 

32. [Boulding, esp. ch. 2]; [Dean C. Pruitt, "Definition of the 
Situation as a Determinant of International Action," in Herbert C. 
Kelman, ed.. International Behavior, New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart 
and Winston, 1965, pp. i22ff\; [Anatol Rapoport, Fights, Games and 
Debates, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, I960]; and 
[Rapoport, "Lewis Richardson's Mathematical Theory of War," 
Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 1, No. 3, September 1957, pp. 

33. [Boulding, p. 34]; [Pruitt, p. 423]. 




Commentary: On Nuclear Deterrence 
Alain C. Enthoven 

Albert Wohlstetter was the most important strategic analyst 
and thinker of our time. His ideas were the foundation of the 
overall nuclear strategy of the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. 
Johnson Administrations. His insights, recommendations, and 
ensuing policies greatly reduced the otherwise high danger of a 
thermonuclear war. 

On a more personal scale, Albert was one of the most important 
influences in my life: father-figure, teacher, mentor, and friend. 
He was the intellectual godfather of the Systems Analysis Office 
that 1 created and led in the 1960s under the direction of Charles 
Hitch and Robert McNamara.^ 

Albert's effect on defense policy was profound and far- 
reaching. He was the father of strategic analysis based on 
systematic, empirical, and interdisciplinary studies. Indeed, he 
raised the standards for what could pass as an analysis of a policy 
issue in subsequent years. Albert searched out and asked the most 
fundamental questions. He insisted that the actual details — missile 
accuracies, reliabilities and pay loads, bomb yields, blast resistance, 
bomber ranges, operating characteristics, costs, and much more — 
mattered and must be factored carefully into a systems analysis. 
Nuclear deterrence could not be dealt with sufficiently at a level 
of generality that did not consider such details. 

Economics typically focuses on analyzing choice among a 
defined set of choices. For Albert, however, out of analysis emerged 
new choices. Analysis was as much about the invention of new 
solutions as it was choice among known alternatives. 

While others made comparable contributions in the realms 
of politics and management, and may get the recognition in the 
history books, Albert's unique and essential contribution was in 
building the intellectual foundations of American strategy and 
defense policy, and how it must be studied. There, he had no 

The Basing Study. 

The high point of Albert's early work was the "Basing Study," 
in which he led an unusually talented team including economists 
Fred Hoffman and Harry Rowen, and aeronautical engineer Bob 


Lutz. With the Basing Study's two main reports — the 1953 staff 
summary report, The Selection of Strategic Air Bases (R-244-S)/ and 
the 1954 final report. The Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases 
(R-266)^ — he turned the thinking on strategic air power on its head. 
He grasped the full significance of atomic and thermonuclear 
weapons. He and his team saw that the role of strategic air power 
could not be to carry on a protracted bombing campaign, a World 
War II with bigger bombs as envisioned in what was the doctrine 
at the time.* Such a war would be so destructive as to be not worth 
winning. But even this type of war couldn't be fought with the 
Strategic Air Command (SAC) based soft and concentrated on 
relatively few overseas bases. After a Soviet attack on our bases, 
there would be no SAC. 

However, the Basing Study's most original insight was that 
the role of SAC should be to deter attack, and that required SAC 
to be able not only to survive a Soviet attack designed to destroy 
it, but also to strike back— in short, to acquire a "second-strike 
capability." And then he found that survival for a second-strike 
was itself a very large challenge. Albert inspired and led a great 
deal of research, ingenuity, and creativity to find solutions to that 
problem. The whole idea of survival, second strike, and deterrence 
came out of Albert's work and thinking. 

In the decade after World War II, perhaps understandably, 
there were many views extant regarding the significance of 
nuclear weapons. Many thought that thermonuclear war would 
be so destructive as to be unthinkable, and therefore could not 
happen. Deterrence would be automatic. Albert and his team 
found that deterrence was far from automatic and far from easy 
to assure. 

The Vulnerability Study. 

Albert went on with the same team to do the follow-up 
"Vulnerability Study," an extension of his analysis into the missile 
age. With the Vulnerability Study's 1956 report. Protecting U.S. 
Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s (R-290), he showed how 
numerical superiority did not guarantee a credible deterrent: 

The criterion of matching the Russians plane for plane, 
or exceeding them, is, in the strict sense, irrelevant to 
the problem of deterrence. It may even be, as has been 
asserted, unnecessary to achieve such parity so long as 


we make it crystal clear to the enemy that we can strike 
back after an attack. But then we do have to make it clear. 
Deterrence is hardly attained by simply creating some 
uncertainty in the enemy's attack plans, that is, by mak- 
ing it somewhat a gamble. The question is, how much of a 
gamble? And what are his alternatives?^ 

R-290 demonstrated the need to base and operate America's 
nuclear-armed bomber forces in ways that were not merely better 
protected and more capable of surviving surprise attack, but also 
much less accident-prone and much more controllable by the 
political leadership, in peacetime and especially in times of deep 
international crisis. 

One of the many valuable activities that grew out of the 
vulnerability inquiry was Harry Rowen's study of how to put 
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the first of which were 
based in vulnerable clusters above ground, in better protected 
silos underground. These ideas of survival and second strike 
eventually passed into our security culture, and became the 
basis of defense policy. But they certainly were not obvious at 
the time. They were intensely controversial in several respects. 
For example, many authorities were sure that hardening bombers 
in underground shelters and missile silos to the required degree 
was impossible. I remember conferences where such judgments 
were expressed most forcefully. So, Albert went out and found 
Paul Weidlinger, a brilliant architect-engineer, who developed 
solutions to the problems of blast resistance. In the case of the 
missile silos, Weidlinger' s engineering and Rowen's systems 
analysis were accepted and became the basis for our deployment 
of Minuteman ICBMs. 

Challenging Dominant Paradigms: "The Delicate Balance" and 

In the 1950s, people assumed that thermonuclear was so 
horrible that nobody would start one. Except that we would, if 
our NATO allies were attacked by the apparently overwhelming 
Soviet army. Most people, though, were oblivious to the implica- 
tions of the vulnerability of SAC at the time. This vulnerability 
could have invited attack in a crisis, especially a crisis in which the 
Soviets thought we would carry out our threat, in which case their 
least worst alternative might be to launch a preemptive surprise 


attack. Albert published his memorable article, "The Delicate 
Balance of Terror," in Foreign Affairs to explain the problem to a 
wider audience.* 

Despite the Eisenhower Administration's acceptance of 
many of Albert's programmatic recommendations for reducing 
vulnerability, it remained for the new Kennedy Administration 
to accept the broader strategic implications of his work. Whether 
in the military, government, academia, or other professions, there 
are such things as institutional interests and dominant paradigms 
that are very hard to change. It's hard to just tear up the plans 
and premises you have been acting on for years and admit that 
you were wrong. Albert was fearless and relentless in his attack 
on dominant paradigms when thorough analysis revealed they 
were wrong. Wasn't there a bumper sticker that said, "Attack the 
dominant paradigm"? If there was, it surely would have been the 
right one for Albert's car. 

Fortunately for America — and the world — presidential 
candidate John F. Kennedy picked up on Albert's themes, and his 
first acts as President of the United States included accelerating 
the Minuteman as an underground-based ICBM, and the Polaris 
sea-launched ballistic missiles in submarines. President Kennedy 
personally changed the name of what were previously known 
as "strategic offensive forces" to "strategic retaliatory forces" to 
clarify the mission. 

The Limits of Strategic Deterrence. 

In the decade after World War II, the declared American policy 
for deterring a Soviet non-nuclear attack on our NATO allies was, 
as previously noted, to threaten an all-out thermonuclear attack 
on the Soviet bloc. Albert addressed this policy in "The Delicate 
Balance of Terror": 

But the notion of massive retaliation as a responsible 
retort to peripheral provocations vanished in the harsh 
light of a better understanding here and abroad that the 
Soviet nuclear delivery capability meant tremendous 
losses to the United States if we attacked them. And now 
Europe has begun to doubt that we would make the sac- 
rifice involved in using SAC to answer an attack directed 
at it but not ourselves. 


The many critics of the massive retaliation policy who 
advocate a capability to meet limited aggression with a 
limited response are on firm ground in suggesting that a 
massive response on such an occasion would be unlikely 
and the threat to use it therefore not believed. Moreover 
this argument is quite enough to make clear the critical 
need for more serious development of the power to meet 
limited aggressions/ 

John F. Kennedy borrowed this idea in his campaign and 
denounced the massive retaliation policy as confronting the 
President with a choice of "Suicide or Surrender; Humiliation or 
Holocaust."* Albert himself, and through his disciples who went 
on to serve in the Pentagon, expressed profound concern about 
the uncontrolled, indiscriminate use of force. His studies led him 
to recommend control and deliberation — and, later, discriminate 
weapons such as accurate "smart weapons" and restraint in 
targeting. Albert's ideas had a large impact on the thinking of 
Secretary Robert McNamara. In the early years of the Kennedy 
Administration, Albert's ideas won out, and the very great danger 
of nuclear war was drastically reduced. 

Albert was also very interested in NATO strategy, and very 
influential in its development. He understood that the other best 
way to reduce the danger of nuclear war was to eliminate our 
need for the threatened first use of nuclear weapons by acquiring 
adequate and effective non-nuclear forces.' Implementing this 
idea took a longer struggle than gaining acceptance of the need 
for a second-strike capability, but it was eventually successful. 

Albert also directed attention to the flanks of NATO, and to 
potential attacks outside the NATO area. In August 1990, Iraq's 
surprise invasion of Kuwait fulfilled his prophecies. 

Contemporary Relevance. 

Albert's strategic views were "fact dependent," and facts 
change. As noted above, the actual technical factors mattered. So 
his legacy is as much in his intellectual standards and methods 
of analysis as it is in specific strategic doctrines. One of the 
most significant of Albert's legacies was to demonstrate the 
importance of what can be accomplished by rigorous, diligent, 
uncompromising search for truth in complex issues of public 
policy. He was skeptical of policy conclusions that rested on 


uncertain intelligence estimates, and sought solutions that 
didn't depend on them even when they supported his case; he 
was openly critical of official estimates on occasions when he 
believed they reflected a policy bias. One cannot help wishing 
that such an analytical attitude had prevailed concerning the 
supposed presence of ongoing WMD programs in Iraq before 
President Bush's 2003 decision to invade. Among the many and 
large negative consequences of that error was the severe blow 
to the credibility of U.S. intelligence capabilities and top-level 
government decision-making processes. 

Beyond that, the importance of Albert's insistence on 
secure and survivable command, control, and communications 
capabilities persists, as well as his insistence on the importance 
of a high level of security of nuclear weapons. We now find it 
clearly in our interest to help other nuclear powers maintain the 
security of and national control authority over their weapons so 
that they will not fall into the hands of nonstate actors who cannot 
be deterred, or will not be used in unauthorized ways in a crisis. 
Thus, we ought to be sure we are devoting adequate resources to 
that end. Moreover, with nearly 18 years having elapsed since the 
end of the Cold War, it is past time for publicly abjuring a policy 
that Albert always opposed, maintaining ICBM forces in a posture 
of readiness to launch on warning of an attack. He attacked that 
reckless policy during the dangerous days of the Cold War; he 
would certainly favor distancing ourselves from it now. 

Albert's emphasis on the importance of and difficulty of 
deterrence remains relevant in the case of nuclear-armed states. 
Some may think that Iran can be deterred from attacking our vital 
interests with nuclear weapons. But we must face the difficult 
question of what would be an appropriate response. Surely, 
the idea of an all-out nuclear counterattack on Iranian cities 
would raise doubts in the minds of many reasonable people. 
Albert's insistence on the importance of control and deliberation, 
discrimination, and proportionality of response as a basis for a 
credible deterrent, remains relevant. 

The problem of nuclear deterrence is enormously more 
complicated today than it was in the 1950s and 1960s when we 
faced essentially a bipolar world, and we believed the Soviets 
would act rationally in the interests of their own survival. (The 
bipolar world model may have oversimplified things.) Now we 
face a multipolar world, one in which nuclear weapons directed 
at our cities may not have a clearly marked return address in a 


nation-state. There now appears to be a significant danger that a 
nuclear weapon might be obtained by nonstate actors who want 
or are willing to die in an effort to deliver it to an American or 
European city. This problem needs to be analyzed with the same 
relentless determination, rigor, and thoroughness that Wohlstetter 
and his associates applied in the 1950s. Such analyses might point 
to important new technologies that need development. 

Lessons from Wohlstetter's work include the fact that there 
is usually a lot of superficial, fuzzy, and wrong thinking extant. 
Just because 95 percent of people believe something to be true, 
including high-ranking authorities who have access to classified 
information, doesn't mean that it is true. For example, K. Wayne 
Smith and I debunked the widely accepted myth of overwhelming 
Soviet superiority in conventional forces in Europe in our book 
How Much is Enough ? which we like to think was in the Wohlstetter 
tradition.^" Fortunately, McNamara and both his presidential 
bosses also doubted that myth. 

Complex problems of strategy must be approached by 
relentless pursuit of insight and truth, by people with access to 
relevant detailed information. As Albert believed, the numbers 
usually do matter. This makes it all the more important for our 
government to make such informed but independent analysis 
possible. This experience reflects creditably on the United States 
Air Force and the Eisenhower Administration who continued 
to support rand's independence even when Wohlstetter and 
his team reached conclusions that were at variance with their 
policies. In an era marked by so much political cronyism and 
parochialism, it is important for our society to develop institutions 
that can conduct such analyses with the necessary degree of 

Not Just a Strategic Analyst. 

On a more personal note, Albert was a remarkable person. 
He didn't suffer fools gladly, but he was as hard on himself as on 
others in the relentless search for valid insight and truth, and he 
appreciated good work and good policy analysis when he saw it. 
I felt the lash of his criticism for work not well thought through, 
and also the warmth of his appreciation for good work. Albert 
was a superb teacher. 

Beyond the professional sphere, Albert was a great human 
being, with a wide range of friendships and interests. He loved 


life, music, art, poetry, felicitous toasts, flowers, architecture, 
food, and dance — "George Balanchine and Szechuan cuisine." He 
could speak intelligently on a vast range of topics. 

Albert's judgment was never employed to better effect than in 
his choice of Roberta as his wife. The affection between them was 
evident to all who knew them well; but so was the importance 
of Roberta to Albert's professional achievements. The smoothly 
functioning domestic life she gave him allowed him the freedom 
to devote himself to his work and indulge his aesthetic tastes. She 
was also his closest colleague with outstanding accomplishments 
of her own, in an area that complemented his interests. He often 
acknowledged his dependence on her judgments of people 
and situations. More important, her prize-winning work on the 
problems of response to ambiguous intelligence warnings was 
central to his approach to the difficulty of strategic deterrence." 

This was a man of many facets and virtues. We miss his 
presence. Our world is a far better place for his work. 

ENDNOTES - Enthoven 

1. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems 
Analysis, subsequently renamed Office of the Assistant Secretary 
of Defense for Program Analysis and Evaluation, is still in 
existence 40 years later. 

2. Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Robert J. Lutz, 
and Henry S. Rowen, The Selection of Strategic Air Bases, R-244-S, 
special staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, March 
1, 1953, TOP SECRET, declassified on July 1, 1963, available from 

3. Albert J. Wohlstetter, Fred S. Hoffman, Henry S. Rowen, 
and Robert J. Lutz, The Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases, 
R-266, final report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, April 
1954, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1961, available from www. The follow-up Vulnerability Study's 
most representative report is: Wohlstetter, Hoffman, and Rowen, 
Protecting U.S. Power to Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, R-290, 
staff report, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, September 1, 
1956, TOP SECRET, declassified circa 1960s, available from www. Al=R290.pdf 


4. For more on this topic, see Albert Wohlstetter's "Letter 
to Michael Howard," November 1968, which is included in this 
edited volume. 

5. Wohlstetter, Hoffman, and Rowen, Protecting U.S. Power to 
Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, p. 6. 

6. Albert Wohlstetter, "The Delicate Balance of Terror," Foreign 
Affairs, Vol. 37, No. 2, January 1959, pp. 211-234. Although Foreign 
Affairs published an abridged version of "The Delicate Balance 
of Terror," this edited volume includes the unabridged version: 
Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror (unabridged version), 
P-1472, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, November 6, 
1958, revised December 1958, available from www 

7. Ibid. 

8. President John F. Kennedy, "Diplomacy and Defense: A Test 
of National Maturity," a speech at the University of Washington's 
100th Anniversary Program, November 16, 1961. An audio 
recording and transcript of this speech is available online at the 
JFK Library at 
Refer ence+Desk/Speeches/ Albert, while strongly supporting this 
position, was nonetheless critical of the Kennedy campaign's 
exploitation of the alleged "missile gap" to criticize the Eisenhower 
Administration. He rejected the argument on the sufficient grounds 
that it relied on the view that the strategic balance depended on 
the size of the opposing strategic forces rather than on their ability 
to survive and respond after a surprise attack. 

9. See especially Albert Wohlstetter and Henry S. Rowen, 
"Objectives of the United States Military Posture," RM-2373, Santa 
Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, May 1, 1959, available from; and 
Dean Acheson (with Albert Wohlstetter et ah), A Review of North 
Atlantic Problems for the Future, the Committee on U.S. Political, 
Economic and Military Policy in Europe's Policy Guidance to the 
National Security Council, March 1961. 


10. Alain Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, How Much is Enough ? 
Shaping the Defense Program, 1961-1969, New York, NY: Harper & 
Row, 1971. A new edition of this book was recently published as: 
Enthoven and Smith, How Much is Enough? Shaping the Defense 
Program, 1961-1969, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 

11. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962. 


The Delicate Balance of Terror (1958) 

Albert Wohlstetter 

P-1472, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, No- 
vember 6, 1958, revised December 1958, available from 
Courtesy of the Wohlstetter Estate. 

1. Introduction 

The first shock administered by the Soviet launching of 
Sputnik has almost dissipated. The flurry of statements and 
investigations and improvised responses has died down, leaving 
a small residue: a slight increase in the schedule of bomber and 
ballistic missile production, with a resulting small increment in 
our defense expenditures for the current fiscal year, a considerable 
enthusiasm for space travel, and some stirrings of interest in the 
teaching of mathematics and physics in the secondary schools. 
Western defense policy has almost returned to the level of activity 
and the emphasis suited to the basic assumptions which were 
controlling before Sputnik. 

One of the most important of these assumptions — that 
a general thermonuclear war is extremely unlikely — is held 
in common by most of the critics of our defense policy as well 
as by its proponents. Because of its crucial role in the Western 
strategy of defense, 1 should like to examine the stability of the 
thermonuclear balance which, it is generally supposed, would 
make aggression irrational or even insane. The balance, 1 believe, is 
in fact precarious, and this fact has critical implications for policy. 
Deterrence in the 1960's will be neither inevitable nor impossible 
but the product of sustained intelligent effort, attainable only by 
continuing hard choice. As a major illustration important both for 
defense and foreign policy, 1 shall treat the particularly stringent 
conditions for deterrence which affect forces based close to the 
enemy, whether they are U.S. forces or those of our allies, under 
single or joint control. 1 shall comment also on the inadequacy as 
well as the necessity of deterrence, on the problem of accidental 
outbreak of war, and on disarmament.^ 


II. The Presumed Automatic Balance 

I emphasize that requirements for deterrence are stringent. We 
have heard so much about the atomic stalemate and the receding 
probability of war which it has produced, that this may strike the 
reader as something of an exaggeration. Is deterrence a necessary 
consequence of both sides having a nuclear delivery capability, 
and is all-out war nearly obsolete? Is mutual extinction the only 
outcome of a general war? This belief, frequently expressed by 
references to Mr. Oppenheimer's simile of the two scorpions 
in a bottle, is perhaps the prevalent one. It is held by a very 
eminent and diverse group of people — in England by Sir Winston 
Churchill, P. M. S. Blackett, Sir John Slessor, Admiral Buzzard and 
many others, in France by such figures as Raymond Aron, General 
Gallois and General Gazin, in this country by the titular heads of 
both parties as well as almost all writers on military and foreign 
affairs, by both Henry Kissinger and his critic, James E. King, and 
by George Kennan as well as Mr. Acheson. Mr. Kennan refers to 
American concern about surprise attack as simply obsessive,^ and 
many people have drawn the consequence of the stalemate as has 
Blackett, who states: "If it is in fact true, as most current opinion 
holds, that strategic air power has abolished global war, then an 
urgent problem for the West is to assess how little effort must be 
put into it to keep global war abolished."^ If peace were founded 
firmly on mutual terror and mutual terror on symmetrical nuclear 
powers, this would be, as Churchill has said, "a melancholy 
paradox"; nonetheless a most comforting one. 

Deterrence, however, is not automatic. While feasible, it 
will be much harder to achieve in the 1960's than is generally 
believed. One of the most disturbing features of current opinion 
is the underestimation of this difficulty. This is due partly to a 
misconstruction of the technological race as a problem in matching 
striking forces, partly to a wishful analysis of the Soviet ability to 
strike first. 

Since Sputnik, the United States has made several moves 
to assure the world (that is, the enemy, but more especially our 
allies and ourselves) that we will match or overmatch Soviet 
technology and, specifically, Soviet offense technology. We 
have, for example, accelerated the bomber and ballistic missile 
programs, in particular, the intermediate-range ballistic missiles. 
The problem has been conceived as more or better bombers — or 
rockets; or Sputniks; or engineers. This has meant confusing 


deterrence with matching or exceeding the enemy's ability to 
strike first. Matching weapons, however, misconstrues the nature 
of the technological race. Not, as is frequently said, because only a 
few bombs owned by the defender can make aggression fruitless, 
but because even many might not. One outmoded A-bomb 
dropped from an obsolete bomber might destroy a great many 
supersonic jets and ballistic missiles. To deter an attack means 
being able to strike back in spite of it. It means, in other words, a 
capability to strike second. In the last year or two there has been a 
growing awareness of the importance of the distinction between 
a "strike-first" and a "strike-second" capability, but little, if any, 
recognition of the implications of this distinction for the balance 
of terror theory. 

Where the published writings have not simply underestimated 
Soviet capabilities and the advantages of a first strike, they have 
in general placed artificial constraints on the Soviet use of the 
capabilities attributed to them. They assume, for example, that the 
enemy will attack in mass "over-the- Arctic" through our Distant 
Early Warning line, with bombers refueled over Canada — all 
resulting in plenty of warning. Most hopefully, it is sometimes 
assumed that such attacks will be preceded by days of visible 
preparations for moving ground troops. Such assumptions 
suggest that Soviet leaders will be rather bumbling or, better, 
cooperative. These are best called "Western-preferred-Soviet 
strategies." However attractive it may be for us to narrow Soviet 
alternatives to these, they would be low in the order of preference 
of any reasonable Russian planning war. 

III. The Quantitative Nature of the Problem and the 

In treating Soviet strategies it is important to consider Soviet 
rather than Western advantage and to consider the strategy of 
both sides quantitatively. The effectiveness of our own choices 
will depend on a most complex numerical interaction of Soviet 
and Western plans. Unfortunately, both the privileged and 
unprivileged information on these matters is precarious. As 
a result, competent people have been led into critical error in 
evaluating the prospects for deterrence. Western journalists have 
greatly overestimated the difficulties of a Soviet surprise attack 
with thermonuclear weapons and vastly underestimated the 
complexity of the Western problem of retaliation. 


One intelligent commentator, Richard Rovere, recently 
expressed the common view: "If the Russians had ten thousand 
warheads and a missile for each, and we had ten hydrogen 
bombs and ten obsolete bombers," . . . "aggression would still 
be a folly that would appeal only to an insane adventurer." Mr. 
Rovere' s example is plausible because it assumes implicitly that 
the defender's hydrogen bombs will with certainty be visited on 
the aggressor; then the damage done by the ten bombs seems 
terrible enough for deterrence, and any more would be simply 
redundant. This is the basis for the common view. The example 
raises questions, even assuming the delivery of the ten weapons. 
For instance, the targets aimed at in retaliation might be sheltered 
and a quite modest civil defense could hold within tolerable limits 
the damage done to city targets by ten delivered bombs. But the 
essential point is that the weapons would not be very likely to 
reach their targets. Even if the bombers were dispersed at ten 
different points, and protected by shelters so blast resistant as to 
stand up anywhere outside the lip of the bomb crater — even inside 
the fire ball itself — the chances of one of these bombers surviving 
the huge attack directed at it would be on the order of one in a 
million. (This calculation takes account of the unreliability and 
inaccuracy of the missile.) And the damage done by the small 
minority of these ten planes that might be in the air at the time 
of the attack, armed and ready to run the gauntlet of an alert air 
defense system, if not zero, would be very small indeed compared 
to damage that Russia has suffered in the past. For Mr. Rovere, 
like many other writers on this subject, numerical superiority is 
not important at all. 

For Joseph Alsop, on the other hand, it is important, but 
the superiority is on our side. Mr. Alsop recently enunciated as 
one of the four rules of nuclear war: "The aggressor's problem 
is astronomically difficult; and the aggressor requires an 
overwhelming superiority of force."* There are, he believes, no 
fewer than 400 SAC bases in the NATO nations alone and many 
more elsewhere, all of which would have to be attacked in a very 
short space of time. The "thousands of coordinated air sorties 
and/ or missile firings," he concludes, are not feasible. Mr. Alsop's 
argument is numerical and has the virtue of demonstrating that 
at least the relative numbers are important. But the numbers he 
uses are very wide of the mark. He overestimates the number of 
such bases by more than a factor of ten,^ and in any case, missile 
firings on the scale of a thousand or more involve costs that are 


by no means out of proportion, given the strategic budgets of the 
great powers. Whether or not thousands are needed depends on 
the yield and the accuracy of the enemy missiles, something about 
which it would be a great mistake for us to display confidence. 

Perhaps the first step in dispelling the nearly universal 
optimism about the stability of deterrence would be to recognize 
the difficulties in analyzing the uncertainties and interactions 
between our own wide range of choices and the moves open to 
the Soviets. On our side we must consider an enormous variety of 
strategic weapons which might compose our force, and, for each 
of these, several alternative methods of basing and operation. 
These are the choices that determine whether a weapons system 
will have any genuine capability in the realistic circumstances 
of a war. Besides the B-47E and the B-52 bombers which are in 
the United States strategic force now, alternatives will include 
the B-52G (a longer range version of the B-52); the Mach 2 B-58A 
bomber and a "growth" version of it; the Mach 3 B-70 bomber; 
a nuclear-powered bomber possibly carrying long-range air-to- 
surface missiles; the Dynasoar, a manned glide-rocket; the Thor 
and the Jupiter, liquid-fueled intermediate range ballistic missiles; 
the Snark intercontinental cruise missile; the Atlas and the Titan 
intercontinental ballistic missiles; the submarine-launched Polaris 
and Atlantis rockets; the Minuteman, one potential solid-fueled 
successor to the Thor and Titan; possibly unmanned bombardment 
satellites; and many others which are not yet gleams in anyone's 
eye and some that are just that. 

The difficulty of describing in a brief article the best mixture 
of weapons for the long-term future beginning in 1960, their base 
requirements, their potentiality for stabilizing or upsetting the 
balance among the great powers, and their implications for the 
alliance, is not just a matter of space or the constraints of security. 
The difficulty in fact stems from some rather basic insecurities. 
These matters are wildly uncertain; we are talking about weapons 
and vehicles that are some time off and, even if the precise 
performances currently hoped for and claimed by contractors 
were in the public domain, it would be a good idea to doubt 

Recently some of my colleagues picked their way through 
the graveyard of early claims about various missiles and aircraft: 
their dates of availability, costs and performance. These claims 
are seldom revisited or talked about: De mortuis nil nisi bonum. 
The errors were large and almost always in one direction. And 


the less we knew, the more hopeful we were. Accordingly the 
missiles benefited in particular. For example, the estimated cost of 
one missile increased by a factor of over 50 — from about $35,000 in 
1949 to some $2 million in 1957. This uncertainty is critical. Some 
but not all of the systems listed can be chosen and the problem of 
choice is essentially quantitative. The complexities of the problem, 
if they were more widely understood, would discourage the 
oracular confidence of writers on the subject of deterrence. 

Some of the complexities can be suggested by referring to 
the successive obstacles to be hurdled by any system providing 
a capability to strike second, that is, to strike back. Such deterrent 
systems must have (a) a stable, "steady-state" peacetime operation 
within feasible budgets (besides the logistic and operational costs 
that are, for example, problems of false alarms and accidents). 
They must have also the ability (b) to survive enemy attacks, (c) 
to make and communicate the decision to retaliate, (d) to reach 
enemy territory with fuel enough to complete their mission, (e) 
to penetrate enemy active defenses, that is, fighters and surface- 
to-air missiles, and (f) to destroy the target in spite of any passive 
civil defense in the form of dispersal or protective construction or 
evacuation of the target itself. 

Within limits the enemy is free to use his offensive and 
defensive forces so as to exploit the weaknesses of each of our 
systems in getting over any of these hurdles between peacetime 
operation and the completion of a retaliatory strike. He will also 
be free, within limits, in the Sixties to choose that composition of 
forces for offense, and for active and passive defense, which will 
make life as difficult as possible for the various systems we might 
select. As I stressed earlier, much of the contemporary Western 
confidence on the ease of retaliation is achieved by ignoring the 
full range of sensible enemy plans. It would be quite wrong to 
assume that the uncertainties I have described affect a totalitarian 
aggressor and the party attacked equally. A totalitarian country 
can preserve secrecy about the capabilities and disposition of 
his forces very much better than a Western democracy. And 
the aggressor has, among other enormous advantages of the 
first strike, the ability to weigh continually our performance 
at each of the six barriers and to choose a precise known time 
and circumstance for attack which will reduce uncertainty. It is 
important not to confuse our uncertainty with his. The fact that 
we may not know the accuracy and number of his missiles will 
not deter him. Strangely enough, some military commentators 


have not made this distinction and have actually founded their 
belief in the certainty of deterrence on the fact simply that there 
are uncertainties.* 

The slender basis for Western optimism is displayed not only 
in the writings of journalists but in the more analytic writings of 
professionals. The recent publications of General Gallois^ parallel 
rather closely Mr. Alsop's faulty numerical proof that surprise 
attack is astronomically difficult — except that Gallois' "simple 
arithmetic," to borrow his own phrase, turns essentially on some 
assumptions which are at once inexplicit and extremely optimistic 
about the blast resistance of his dispersed missile sites to enemy 
attacks from nearby.* Mr. Blackett's recent book. Atomic Weapons 
and East-West Relations, illustrates the hazards confronting a most 
able analyst in dealing with the piecemeal information available to 
the general public. Mr. Blackett, a Nobel prize-winning physicist 
with wartime experience in military operations research, mustered 
a lucid summary of the public information available at the time of 
his writing on weapons for all-out war. He stated: 

It is, of course, conceivable that some of the facts have 
been kept so secret that no public judgment of military 
policy can have any great significance; in fact, that the 
military authorities have up their sleeve some invention 
or device, the possession of which completely alters the 
military situation. On reflection we can see that it is fair- 
ly safe to disregard this possibility.' 

But unfortunately his evaluation of the use of intercontinental 
ballistic missiles against bomber bases shows that it was not at all 
safe to "disregard this possibility." Only a few pages further on, 
he said: 

It has recently been stated that some new method has 
been devised in America by which the H-bombs can be 
made small enough to be carried in an intercontinental 
missile. This seems unlikely.^" 

Mr. Blackett's book was published in 1956. It is now widely 
known that intercontinental ballistic missiles will have hydrogen 
warheads, and this fact, a secret at the time, invalidates Mr. 
Blackett's calculations and, I might say, much of his optimism on 
the stability of the balance of terror. In sum, one of the serious 


obstacles to any widespread rational judgment on these matters 
of high policy is that critical elements of the problem have to be 
protected by secrecy. However, some of the principal conclusions 
about deterrence in the early Sixties can be fairly firmly based, 
and based on public information. 

IV. The Delicacy of the Balance of Terror 

The most important conclusion runs counter to the indications 
of what I have called "Western-preferred Soviet strategies." It 
runs counter, that is, to our wishes. A sober analysis of Soviet 
choice from the standpoint of Soviet interest and the technical 
alternatives, and taking into account the uncertainties that a 
Russian planner would insure against, suggests that we must expect 
a vast increase in the weight of attack which the Soviets can deliver with 
Utile warning, and the growth of a significant Russian cap ability for an 
essentially warningless attack. As a result, strategic deterrence, while 
feasible, will be extremely difficult to achieve, and at critical junctures 
in the 1960's we may not have the power to deter attack. Whether we 
have it or not will depend on some difficult strategic choices as 
to the future composition of the deterrent force and, in the years 
when that force is not subject to drastic change in composition, 
hard choices on its basing, operations, and defense. 

The bombers will continue to make up the predominant part 
of our force in the early 1960's. None of the popular remedies 
for their defense will suffice — not, for example, mere increase of 
alertness, the effects of which will be outmoded by the growth of 
a Russian capability for attack without significant warning, nor 
simple dispersal or sheltering alone or mobility taken by itself, or 
a mere piling up of interceptors and defense missiles around SAC 
bases. A complex of measures is required. I shall have occasion to 
comment briefly on the defects of most of these measures taken 
singly. Let me suggest at this point the inadequacy of the popular 
conception of the airborne alert — an extreme form of defense 
by mobility. The impression is rather widespread that one-third 
of the SAC bombers are in the air and ready for combat at all 
times. ^^ This belief is belied by the public record. According to the 
Symington Committee Hearings in 1956, our bombers averaged 
31 hours of flying per month, which is about four percent of the 
average 732-hour month. An Air Force representative expressed 
the hope that within a couple of years, with an increase in the 
ratio of crews to aircraft, the bombers would reach 45 hours of 


flight per month — which is six percent. This four to six percent of 
the force includes bombers partially fueled and without bombs. It 
is, moreover, only an average, admitting variance down as well as 
up. Some increase in the number of armed bombers aloft is to be 
expected. However, for the current generation of bombers, which 
have been designed for speed and range rather than endurance, a 
continuous air patrol for one-third of the force would be extremely 

On the other hand, it would be unwise to look for miracles in 
the new weapons systems, which by the mid-1960' s may constitute 
a considerable portion of the United States force. After the Thor, 
Atlas, and Titan there are a number of promising developments. 
The solid-fueled rockets, Minuteman and Polaris, promise in 
particular to be extremely significant components of the deterrent 
force. Today they are being touted as making the problem of 
deterrence easy to solve and, in fact, guaranteeing its solution. 
But none of the new developments in vehicles is likely to do that. 
For the complex job of deterrence, they all have limitations. The 
unvaryingly immoderate claims for each new weapons system 
should make us wary of the latest "technological breakthroughs." 
Only a very short time ago the ballistic missile itself was supposed 
to be intrinsically invulnerable on the ground. It is now more 
generally understood that its survival is likely to depend on a 
variety of choices in its defense. 

It is hard to talk with confidence about the mid- and late- 
Sixties. A systematic study of an optimal or a good deterrent force 
which considered all the major factors affecting choice and dealt 
adequately with the uncertainties would be a formidable task. In 
lieu of this, I shall mention briefly why none of the many systems 
available or projected dominates the others in any obvious way. 
My comments will take the form of a swift run-through of the 
characteristic advantages and disadvantages of various strategic 
systems at each of the six successive hurdles mentioned earlier. 

The first hurdle to be surmounted is the attainment of a stable, 
steady-state peacetime operation. Systems which depend for their 
survival on extreme decentralization of controls, as may be the 
case with large-scale dispersal and some of the mobile weapons, 
raise problems of accidents and over a long period of peacetime 
operation this leads in turn to serious political problems. Systems 
relying on extensive movement by land, perhaps by truck caravan, 
are an obvious example; the introduction of these on European 
roads, as is sometimes suggested, would raise grave questions 


for the governments of some of our allies. Any extensive increase 
in the armed air alert will increase the hazard of accident and 
intensify the concern already expressed among our allies. Some 
of the proposals for bombardment satellites may involve such 
hazards of unintended bomb release as to make them out of the 

The cost to buy and operate various weapons systems 
must be seriously considered. Some systems buy their ability 
to negotiate a given hurdle — say, surviving the enemy attack — 
only at prohibitive cost. Then the number that can be bought out 
of a given budget will be small and this will affect the relative 
performance of competing systems at various other hurdles, 
for example penetrating enemy defenses. Some of the relevant 
cost comparisons, then, are between competing systems; others 
concern the extra costs to the enemy of canceling an additional 
expenditure of our own. For example, some dispersal is essential, 
though usually it is expensive; if the dispersed bases are within a 
warning net, dispersal can help to provide warning against some 
sorts of attack, since it forces the attacker to increase the size of his 
raid and so makes it more liable to detection as well as somewhat 
harder to coordinate. But as the sole or principal defense of our 
offensive force, dispersal has only a brief useful life and can be 
justified financially only up to a point. For against our costs of 
construction, maintenance and operation of an additional base 
must be set the enemy's much lower costs of delivering one extra 
weapon. And, in general, any feasible degree of dispersal leaves 
a considerable concentration of value at a single target point. 
For example, a squadron of heavy bombers costing, with their 
associated tankers and penetration aids, perhaps a half a billion 
dollars over five years, might be eliminated, if it were otherwise 
unprotected, by an enemy intercontinental ballistic missile costing 
perhaps sixteen million dollars. After making allowance for the 
unreliability and inaccuracy of the missile, this means a ratio of 
some ten for one or better. To achieve safety by hrute numbers in so 
unfavorable a competition is not likely to be viable economically 
or politically. However, a viable peacetime operation is only the 
first hurdle to be surmounted. 

At the second hurdle— surviving enemy offense — ground alert 
systems placed deep within a warning net look good against a 
manned bomber attack, much less good against intercontinental 
ballistic missiles, and not good at all against ballistic missiles 
launched from the sea. In the last case, systems such as the 


Minuteman, which may be sheltered and dispersed as well as 
alert, would do well. Systems involving launching platforms 
which are mobile and concealed, such as Polaris submarines, have 
a particular advantage for surviving an enemy offense. 

However, there is a third hurdle to be surmounted — namely 
that of making the decision to retaliate and communicating it. Here, 
Polaris, the combat air patrol of B-52's, and in fact all of the mobile 
platforms — under water, on the surface, in the air and above the 
air — have severe problems. Long-distance communication may 
be jammed and, most important, communication centers may be 

At the fourth hurdle — ability to reach enemy territory with 
fuel enough to complete the mission— several of our short-legged 
systems have operational problems such as coordination with 
tankers and using bases close to the enemy. For a good many years 
to come, up to the mid-1960's in fact, this will be a formidable 
hurdle for the greater part of our deterrent force. The next section 
of this article deals with this problem at some length. 

The fifth hurdle is the aggressor's long-range interceptors and 
close-in missile defenses. To get past these might require large 
numbers of planes and missiles. (If the high cost of overcoming 
an earlier obstacle — using extreme dispersal or airborne alert or 
the like — limits the number of planes or missiles bought, this 
limitation is likely to be penalized disproportionately here.) 
Or getting through may involve carrying heavy loads of radar 
decoys, electronic jammers and other aids to defense penetration. 
For example, vehicles like Minuteman and Polaris, which were 
made small to facilitate dispersal or mobility, may suffer here 
because they can carry fewer penetration aids. 

At the final hurdle — destroying the target in spite of the passive 
defenses that may protect it — low-payload and low-accuracy 
systems, such as Minuteman and Polaris, may be frustrated by 
blast-resistant shelters. For example, five half-megaton weapons 
with an average accuracy of 2 miles might be expected to destroy 
half the population of a city of 900,000, spread over 40 square 
miles, provided the inhabitants are without shelters. But if they 
are provided with shelters capable of resisting pressures of 100 
pounds per square inch, approximately 60 such weapons would 
be required; and deep rock shelters might force the total up to 
over a thousand. 

Prizes for a retaliatory capability are not distributed for getting 
over one of these jumps. A system must get over all six. A serious 


study of the competing systems in the late Sixties, as I stressed 
earlier, will have to consider the fact that a sensible enemy will 
design his offense and his active and passive defense so as to 
exploit the known weaknesses of whatever systems we choose. 
This sort of game, as anyone who has tried it knows, is extremely 
difficult to analyze and necessitates caution in making any early 
judgment as to the comparative merits of the many competing 
systems. The one thing that is apparent on the basis of even a 
preliminary analysis is that getting a capability to strike second in 
the late Sixties means running a hard course. 

I hope these illustrations will suggest that assuring ourselves 
the power to strike back after a massive thermonuclear surprise 
attack is by no means as automatic as is widely believed. What 
can we say then on the question as to whether general war 
is unlikely? The most important thing to say perhaps is that it 
doesn't make much sense to talk about whether general war is 
likely or not unless we specify a good deal else about the range of 
circumstances in which the choice of surprise attack might present 
itself to the Russians. Deterrence is a matter of comparative risks. 
How much the Soviets will risk in surprise attack will depend in 
part on the vulnerability of our future posture. These risks could 
be smaller than the alternative of not striking. 

Would not a general thermonuclear war mean "extinction" 
for the aggressor as well as the defender? "Extinction" is a state 
that badly needs analysis. Russian fatalities in World War II were 
more than 20,000,000. Yet Russia recovered extremely well from 
this catastrophe. There are several quite plausible circumstances 
in the future when the Russians might be confident of being able to 
limit damage to considerably less than this number — if they make 
sensible strategic choices and we do not. On the other hand, the 
risks of not striking might at some juncture appear very great to 
the Soviets, involving, for example, disastrous defeat in peripheral 
war, loss of key satellites with danger of revolt spreading — 
possibly to Russia itself — or fear of an attack by ourselves. Then, 
striking first, by surprise, would be the sensible choice for them, 
and from their point of view the smaller risk. 

It should be clear that it is not fruitful to talk about the likeli- 
hood of general war without specifying the range of alternatives 
that are pressing on the aggressor and the strategic postures of 
both the Soviet bloc and the West. The balance is not automatic. 
First, since thermonuclear weapons give an enormous advantage 
to the aggressor, it takes great ingenuity and realism at any given 


level of nuclear technology to devise a stable equilibrium. And 
second, this technology itself is changing with fantastic speed. 
Deterrence will require an urgent and continuing effort. 

V. The Uses and Risks of Bases Close to the Soviets 

It may now be useful to focus attention on the special problems 
of deterrent forces close to the Soviet Union. First, overseas areas 
have played an important role in the past and have a continuing 
though less certain role today. Second, the recent acceleration of 
production of our intermediate-range ballistic missiles and the 
negotiation of agreements with various NATO powers for their 
basing and operation have given our overseas bases a renewed 
importance in deterring attack on the United States — or so it would 
appear at first blush. Third, an analysis can throw some light on 
the problems faced by our allies in developing an independent 
ability to deter all-out attack on themselves, and in this way it 
can clarify the much agitated question of nuclear sharing. Finally, 
overseas bases affect in many critical ways, political and economic 
as well as military, the status of the alliance. 

Let me say something to begin with about the uses and risks 
of basing SAC bombers overseas, first, on the costs of operating 
at great range. Suppose we design a chemically fueled bomber 
with the speed and altitude needed to penetrate enemy defenses 
and we want it to operate at a given radius from target without 
refueling. The weight of such a bomber along with the cost of 
buying and operating it will increase at a growing rate with the 
length of the design radius. Or, taking a specific bomber with 
a fixed radius, the cost of extending its radius by buying and 
operating aerial tankers will also grow at an increasing rate, with 
additional air refuelings to extend radius. The state-of-the-art 
during the past decade or so has been such that this has meant 
a drastic rise in costs at distances less than those from bases well 
within the United States to targets well within Russia. Or, looked 
at another way, for a fixed budget this means a smaller number 
of bombers capable of operating from far off than from close in 
to Russia. Indeed, with the actual composition of our tanker and 
bomber force, only a small proportion could be operated from 
the current continental United States base system to our Russian 
targets and back without some use of overseas bases. 

At the end of the last decade, overseas bases appeared to be 
an advantageous means of achieving the radius extension needed 


by our short-legged bombers, of permitting them to use several 
axes of attack, and of increasing the number of sorties possible in 
the course of an extended campaign. With the growth of our own 
thermonuclear stockpile, it became apparent that a long campaign 
involving many re-uses of a large proportion of our bombers was 
not likely to be necessary. With the growth of a Russian nuclear- 
delivery capability, it became clear that this was most unlikely to 
be feasible. 

Our overseas bases now have the disadvantage of high 
vulnerability. Because they are closer than the United States to 
the Soviet Union, they are subject to a vastly greater attack by a 
larger variety as well as number of vehicles. With given resources, 
the Soviets might deliver on nearby bases a freight of bombs with 
something like 50 to 100 times the yield that they could muster at 
intercontinental range. Missile accuracy would more than double. 
Because there is not much space for obtaining warning — in any 
case, there are no deep-warning radar nets — and, since most of 
our overseas bases are close to deep water from which submarines 
might launch missiles, the warning problem is very much more 
severe than for bases in the interior of the United States. 

As a result, early in the Fifties the U.S. Air Force decided to 
recall many of our bombers to the continental United States and to 
use the overseas bases chiefly for refueling, particularly post-strike 
ground refueling. This reduced drastically the vulnerability of U.S. 
bombers and at the same time retained many of the advantages of 
overseas operation. For some years now SAC has been reducing 
the number of aircraft usually deployed overseas. The purpose 
is to reduce vulnerability and has little to do with any increasing 
radius of SAC aircraft. The early B-52 radius is roughly that of 
the B-36; the B-47, roughly that of the B-50 or B-29. In fact the 
radius limitation and therefore the basing requirements we have 
discussed will not change substantially for some time to come. 
We can talk with comparative confidence here, because the U.S. 
strategic force is itself largely determined for this period. Such 
a force changes more slowly than is generally realized. The vast 
majority of the force will consist of manned bombers, and most 
of these will be of medium range. The Atlas, Titan, and Polaris 
rockets, when available, can of course do without overseas bases. 
(Though it should be observed that the proportion of Polaris 
submarines kept at sea can be made larger by the use of overseas- 
based submarine tenders.) This is not true of the Thor and Jupiter. 
But in any case, strategic missiles will be in the minority. Even 


with the projected force of aerial tankers, this means that most of 
our force, which will be manned bombers, cannot be used at all in 
attacks on the Soviet Union without at least some use of overseas 

We might distinguish varying degrees in the intensity of 
such use. (1) At one extreme overseas bases could be simply 
places to land bomber crews by parachute. (2) Or they might 
provide emergency landing facilities for the bombers returning 
from target. (3) They might support the landing of tankers after 
they have fueled the bombers and so permit the transfer of larger 
amounts of fuel. (4) They might be used to help stage the bombers 
back to the United States (possibly to be turned around for another 
sortie). (5) They might be used for staging bombers on the way to 
as well as from the target. (6) They might support one or two such 
"turn-arounds." (7) At the other extreme, they might support 
continuous operation up to the outbreak of the war. The last of 
these types of use (involving continuous close-in operation and 
exposure before the outbreak) is, of course, the most vulnerable. 
Five and six, which involve exposure intermittently only, and after 
the start of war, are less vulnerable but nonetheless problematic. 
In the case of the first four, an attack on the base would not 
prevent the fulfillment by the bomber of at least a single mission 
of retaliation. 

The essential point to be made is that to use the majority of 
our force will involve at least minimal employment of overseas 
areas for the early Sixties. In this period some U.S. bombers will be 
able to reach some targets from some U.S. bases within the original 
forty-eight states without landing on the way back. On the other 
hand, some bomber-target combinations are not feasible without 
pre-target landing (and are therefore doubtful). However, most 
of the bombers in the early Sixties will require some sort of touch 
down of the bomber or the tanker or both on the way back to the 
United States after fulfilling their mission. 

In this section we have been discussing what I listed earlier as 
the fourth hurdle, the problem of reaching enemy territory with 
fuel enough to complete the mission. This is clearly an important 
hurdle in the early Sixties. But how important is it that the 
majority of the U.S. force of strategic vehicles be able to surmount 
this obstacle? This depends essentially on how well the rest of 
the force, which does not have range extension problems, can get 
over each of the other five obstacles: for example, the problem of 
surviving attack on the continental United States and penetrating 


enemy passive and active defense. What I have said already 
will suggest that these difficulties are large enough to make one 
hesitate to throw away lightly a capability that might be obtained 
by some form of radius extension overseas. Some touch down 
overseas will remain useful to most U.S. bombers, which will 
make up the greater part of the deterrent force in the early Sixties. 
On the other hand, because these bases are within range of so 
large a proportion of Russian striking power and subject to attack 
with so little notice, their use by bombers will be severely limited 
in form. 

What of the bases for Thor and Jupiter, our first intermediate- 
range ballistic missiles? These have to be close to the enemy, and they 
must of course be operating bases, not merely refueling stations. 
(This is one of the many differences between the missile and the 
aircraft. Contrary to the usual belief, quite a few, though not all, of 
these differences favor the aircraft as far as ground vulnerability 
is concerned.) The Thors and Jupiters will be continuously in 
range of an enormous Soviet potential for surprise attack. These 
installations therefore reopen, in a most acute form, some of the 
serious questions of ground vulnerability that were raised about 
six years ago in connection with our overseas bomber bases. The 
decision to station the Thor and Jupiter missiles overseas has been 
our principal public response to the Russian advances in rocketry, 
and perhaps our most plausible response. Because it involves our 
ballistic missiles it appears directly to answer the Russian rockets. 
Because it involves using European bases, it appears to make up 
for the range superiority of the Russian intercontinental missile. 
And most important, it directly involves the NATO powers and 
gives them an element of control. 

There is no question that it was genuinely urgent not only 
to meet the Russian threat but to do so visibly, in order to save 
the loosening NATO alliance. Our allies were fearful that the 
Soviet ballistic missiles might mean that we were no longer able 
or willing to retaliate against the Soviet Union in case of an attack 
on them. We hastened to make public a reaction which would 
restore their confidence. This move surely appears to increase our 
own power to strike back, and also to give our allies a deterrent 
of their own, independent of our decision. It has also been argued 
that in this respect it merely advances the inevitable date at which 
our allies will acquire "modern" weapons of their own, and that 
it widens the range of Soviet challenges which Europe can meet. 
But we must face seriously the question whether this move will 


assure either the ability to retaliate or the decision to attempt it, on 
the part of our allies, or ourselves. And we should ask at the very 
least whether further expansion of this policy will buy as much 
retaliatory power as other ways of spending the considerable 
sums involved. Finally, it is important to be clear whether the Thor 
and Jupiter actually increase the flexibility or range of response 
available to our allies. 

One justification for this move argues that it disperses 
retaliatory weapons and that this is the most effective sanction 
against the thermonuclear aggressor. I have already anticipated 
this claim in my earlier discussion of the limitations of dispersal. 
At this point, however, it is useful to comment on one variant 
of the simple dispersal argument which is usually advanced 
in connection with overseas bases, namely that they provide 
a widespread dispersal and this in particular imposes insoluble 
problems of coordination. This argument needs examination. 
There is of course something in the notion that forcing the enemy 
to attack many political entities increases the seriousness of his 
decision. (However, (a) this can't be very persuasively argued as 
the justification for the IRBMs since they will add few if any new 
political entities to our current manned aircraft base system which 
would have to be attacked by the Russians in order to destroy our 
bombers; and, as we shall discuss, (b) where location in a foreign 
country means joint control, we may not be able to use the base in 
retaliation.) There is nothing on the other hand, or very little, in 
the notion that dispersal in several countries makes the problem 
of destruction more difficult in the military sense. Dispersal to 
increase enemy force requirements does not involve separation 
by oceans— just by the lethal diameters of enemy bombs. And the 
coordination problem referred to is very widely misunderstood. 
The critical part of the bomber coordination problem depends 
especially on the time spent within warning nets rather than 
simply the time of travel, and warning, as I have stressed, is 
difficult to come by close to the Soviets. Moreover there is not very 
much difference for the enemy in the task of coordinating bomber 
attacks on Europe and the eastern coast of the United States, say, 
and the job of coordinating attacks on our east and west coasts. 

But the case of an enemy ballistic missile attack is most 
illuminating. These missiles are launched vertically and, so to 
speak, do not care in which direction they are told to proceed — 
their times on trajectory are eminently calculable and, allowing 
a cushion for failures and delays, times of firing can be arranged 


for near-simultaneous impact on many dispersed points, on 
Okinawa and the United Kingdom as well as on California and 
Ohio. Moreover, it is relevant to recall that these far-flung bases, 
while distant from each other and from the United States, are on 
the whole close to the enemy. They require for their elimination 
therefore a smaller expenditure of resources on the part of 
Russia than targets at intercontinental range. For close-in targets 
the Soviets can use a larger variety of weapons carrying larger 
payloads and with improved accuracies. 

The seeming appositeness of an overseas-based Thor and 
Jupiter as an answer to a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile 
stems not so much from any careful analysis of their retaliatory 
power under attack as from the directness of the comparison they 
suggest: a rocket with a rocket, an intercontinental capability 
with a base at closer range to the target. In this respect the ready 
optimism on the subject reflects the basic confusion, referred to at 
the beginning of this essay, as to the nature of the technological 
race. It conceives the problem of deterrence as that of simply 
matching or exceeding the aggressor's capability to strike first. 
A surprising proportion of the debate on defense policy has 
betrayed this confusion. Matching technological developments 
are useful for prestige, and such demonstrations have a vital 
function in preserving the alliance and in reassuring the neutral 
powers. But propaganda is not enough. The only reasonably 
certain way of maintaining a reputation for strength is to display 
an actual power to our friends as well as our enemies. We should 
ask then whether further expansion of the current programs for 
basing Thor and Jupiter is an efficient way to increase American 
retaliatory power. If overseas bases are considered too vulnerable 
for manned bombers, will not the same be true for missiles? The 
basis for the hopeful impression that they will not be is rather 
vague, including a mixture of hypothetical properties of ballistic 
missiles in which perhaps the dominant element is their supposed 
much more rapid, "push-button" response. What needs to be 
considered here are the response time of such missiles (including 
decision, preparation, and launch times), and how they are to be 

The decision to fire a missile with a thermonuclear warhead 
is much harder to make than a decision simply to start a manned 
aircraft on its way, with orders to return to base unless instructed 
to continue to its assigned target. This is the "fail-safe" procedure 
practiced by the U.S. Air Force. In contrast, once a missile is 


launched, there is no method of recall or deflection which is not 
subject to risks of electronic or mechanical failure. Therefore such 
a decision must wait for much more unambiguous evidence of 
enemy intentions. It must and will take a longer time to make and 
is less likely to be made at all. When more than one country is 
involved, the joint decision is harder still, since there is opportunity 
to disagree about the ambiguity of the evidence, as well as to 
make separate considerations of national interest. The structure 
of the NATO decision process on much less momentous matters 
is complicated, and it should be recognized that such complexity 
has much to do with the genuine concern of the various NATO 
powers about the danger of accidentally starting World War III. 
Such fears will not be diminished with the advent of IRBMs. In 
fact, the mere widespread dispersion of nuclear armed missiles 
raises measurably the possibility of accidental outbreak. 

Second — the preparation and launching time. It is quite 
erroneous to suppose that by contrast with manned bombers 
the first IRBMs can be launched almost as simply as pressing a 
button. Count-down procedures for early missiles are liable to 
interruption, and the cryogenic character of the liquid oxygen fuel 
limits the readiness of their response. Unlike JP-4, the fuel used in 
jet bombers, liquid oxygen cannot be held for long periods of time 
in these vehicles. In this respect such missiles will be less ready 
than alert bombers. 

Third — the warning available. My previous comments have 
suggested that warning against both manned bomber and ballistic 
or cruise missile attack is most difficult overseas in areas close to 
the enemy. But this is related also to a fourth problem, namely 
that of active defense. The less warning, the more difficult this 
problem is. And the problem is a serious one, therefore, not only 
against ballistic missile attacks but, for example, against low- 
altitude or various circuitous attacks by manned aircraft. 

And finally, passive defense by means of shelter is more 
difficult given the larger bomb yields, better accuracies, and 
larger forces available to the Russians at such close range. And 
if the press reports are correct, the installations planned do not 
contemplate bomb-resistant shelters. If this is so, it should be taken 
into account in measuring any actual contribution to the United 
States retaliatory power. Viewed as a contribution to deterring 
all-out attack on the United States then, the Thor and Jupiter bases 
seem unlikely to compare favorably with other alternatives. If 
newspaper references to hard bargaining by some of our future 


hosts are to be believed, it would seem that such negotiations 
have been conducted under misapprehensions on both sides as to 
the benefits to the United States. 

But many proponents of the distribution of Thor and Jupiter — 
and possibly some of our allies — have in mind not an increase in 
U.S. deterrence but the development of an independent capability 
in each of several of the NATO powers to deter all-out attack 
against themselves. This would be a useful thing if it can be 
managed at some supportable cost and if it does not entail the 
sacrifice of even more critical measures of protection. But aside 
from the special problems of joint control, which would affect the 
certainty of response adversely, precisely who their legal owner is 
will not affect the retaliatory power of the Thors and Jupiters one 
way or another. They would not be able to deter any attack which 
they could not survive. It is curious that many who question the 
capability of American overseas bases (for example, our bomber 
bases in the United Kingdom), simply assume that, for our allies, 
possession of strategic nuclear weapons is one with deterrence. 

It remains to examine the view that the provision of these 
weapons will broaden the range of response open to our allies. 
The proponents do not seem to regard an addition of capability 
for NATO at the all-out end of the spectrum as the required 
broadening; but if they do, they are faced with the question 
previously considered: the actuality of this all-out response under 
all-out attack. Insofar as this view rests on the belief that the 
intermediate range ballistic missile is adapted to limited war, it is 
wide of the mark. The inaccuracy of the IRBM requires high-yield 
warheads, and such a combination of inaccuracy and high yield, 
while quite appropriate and adequate against unprotected targets 
in a general war, would scarcely come within even the most 
lax, in fact reckless, definition of limited war. Such a weapon is 
inappropriate for even the nuclear variety of limited war, and it is 
totally useless for meeting the wide variety of provocation that is 
well below the threshold of nuclear response. On the other hand, 
though a contribution of American aid, it may not be without 
cost to the recipient. Insofar as these weapons are expensive to 
operate and support, they are likely to displace a conventional 
capability that might be genuinely useful in limited engagements. 
More important, they are likely to be used as an excuse for budget 
cutting. In this way they will accelerate the general trend toward 
dependence on all-out response and so will have the opposite 
effect to the one claimed. 


Nevertheless, if the Thor and Jupiter have these defects, might 
not some future weapon be free of them? Some of these defects, 
of course, will be overcome in time. Solid fuels or storable liquids 
will eventually replace liquid oxygen, reliabilities will increase, 
various forms of mobility or portability will become feasible, 
accuracies may even come down to regions of interest in limited 
wars. But these are all years away. In consequence, the discussion 
will be advanced if a little more precision is given such terms 
as "missiles" or "modern" or "advanced weapons." We are not 
distributing a generic "modern" weapon with all the virtues of 
flexibility for use in a wide range of attacks and invulnerability 
in all-out war. Finally, even with advances in the state-of-the-art 
on our side, it will continue to be hard to maintain a deterrent, 
and even harder close in under the enemy's guns than further off. 
Some of the principal difficulties I have sketched will remain and 
others will grow. This is of particular interest to our allies who 
do not have quite the same freedom to choose between basing 
at intercontinental and point-blank range. The characteristic 
limitations of "overseas" basing concern them since, for the most 
part, unlike ourselves, they live "overseas." 

It follows that, though a wider distribution in the ownership 
of nuclear weapons may be inevitable, or at any rate likely, it is by 
no means inevitable or even very likely that the power to deter an 
all-out thermonuclear attack by Russia will be widespread. This 
is true even though a minor power would not need to guarantee 
as large a retaliation as we in order to deter attack on itself. 
Unfortunately, the minor powers have smaller resources as well 
as poorer strategic locations. ^^ A multiplicity of such independent 
retaliatory powers might be desirable as a substitute for the 
principal current function of the alliance. But they will not be 
easy to achieve. Mere membership in the nuclear club might carry 
with it prestige, as the applicants and nominees expect, but it will 
be rather expensive, and in time it will be clear that it does not 
necessarily confer any of the expected privileges enjoyed by the 
two charter members. The burden of deterring a general war as 
distinct from limited wars is still likely to be on the United States 
and therefore, so far as our allies are concerned, on the alliance. 

In closing these remarks on the special problems of overseas 
bases, it should be observed that I have dealt with only one 
of the functions of these bases: their use as a support for the 
strategic deterrent force. They have a variety of military, political 
and economic roles which are beyond the scope of this paper. 


Expenditures in connection with the construction or operation of 
U.S. bases, for example, are a form of economic aid and, moreover, 
a form that is rather palatable to the Congress. There are other 
functions in a central war where their importance may be very 
considerable. In case deterrence fails, they might support a 
counterattack which could blunt the strength of an enemy follow- 
up attack, and so reduce the damage done to our cities. Their 
chief virtue here is precisely the proximity to the enemy which 
makes them problematic as a deterrent. Proximity means shorter 
time to target and possibly larger and more accurately delivered 
weapons — provided, of course, the blunting force survives the 
first attack. This is not likely to be a high confidence capability of 
the sort we seek in the deterrent itself; but it might make a very 
real difference under some circumstances of attack, particularly 
if the enemy attack were poorly coordinated, as it might be if the 
war were started by an accident. In this case the first wave might 
be smaller and less well organized than in a carefully prepared 
attack. The chance of even some of our unprotected planes or 
missiles surviving would be greater. Moreover a larger portion 
of the attacker's force would remain on base, not yet ready for a 
following attack. Using some portion of our force not in retaliation 
but to spoil the follow-up raid by killing or at least disrupting 
the matching of bombers with tankers, bombers with bombers, 
bombers with decoys, and bombers with missiles, could reduce 
both the number of attackers reaching our defenses and the 
effectiveness of their formation for getting through. It would be 
a fatal mistake to count on poor planning by an aggressor, but, 
given the considerable reduction in damage it might enable, it is 
prudent to have the ability to exploit such an error. 

One caution should be observed. A force capable of blunting 
a poorly started aggression and equipped with information as to 
enemy deployments, might destroy a poorly protected enemy 
strategic force before the latter got started. Missiles placed near 
the enemy, even if they could not retaliate, would have a potent 
capability for striking first by surprise. And it might not be easy 
for the enemy to discern their purpose. The existence of such a 
force might be a considerable provocation and in fact a dangerous 
one in the sense that it would place a great burden on the deterrent 
force which more than ever would have to guarantee extreme risks 
to the attacker — worse than the risks of waiting in the face of this 
danger. When not coupled with the ability to strike in retaliation, 
such a capability would suggest — erroneously to be sure in the 


case of the democracies — an intention to strike first. It would tend 
to provoke rather than to deter general war. 

One final use for our overseas bases should be mentioned, 
namely their use to support operations in a limited war. Their 
importance here is both more considerable and likely to be more 
lasting than their increasingly restricted utility to deter attack 
on the United States. Particularly in conventional limited wars, 
destructive force is delivered in smaller units and, in general, 
requires a great number of sorties over an extended period of 
time. It is conceivable that we might attempt the intercontinental 
delivery of iron bombs as well as ground troops and ground- 
support elements. The problem of intercontinental versus 
overseas bombers is mainly a matter of costs, provided we have 
the time and freedom to choose the composition of our force and 
our budget size. But there would be enormous differences in costs 
between distant and close-in repeated delivery at a given rate of 
high explosives. 

I hope that my focus so far on the critical problem of deterring 
central war has not led the reader to believe that I consider the 
problem of limited war either unimportant or soluble by use of 
the strategic threat. Quite the contrary is the case. In fact it would 
be appropriate to say something about the limitations as well as 
the necessity of strategic deterrence in this as well as other con- 
nections. But first let me sum up the uses and risks of bases close 
to the Soviet Union. These bases are subject to an attack delivering 
more bombs with larger yields and greater accuracies and with 
less warning than bases at intercontinental range. Whether they 
are under American command, or completely within the control 
of one of our allies or subject to joint control, they present the 
severest problems for the preservation of a deterrent force. 

VI. The Inadequacy of Strategic Deterrence, and Its Necessity 

The inadequacy of deterrence is a familiar story. Western 
forces at the end of the war were larger than those of the Soviet 
Union and its satellites. We demobilized much more extensively, 
relying on nuclear weapons to maintain the balance of East- West 
military power. This was plausible then because nuclear power 
was all on our side. It was our bomb. It seemed only to complete 
the preponderance of American power provided by our enormous 
industrial mobilization base and to dispense with the need to keep 
it mobilized. It would compensate for the extra men kept under 
arms by the East. 


But the notion of massive retaliation as a responsible retort 
to peripheral provocations vanished in the harsh light of a better 
understanding here and abroad that the Soviet nuclear delivery 
capability meant tremendous losses to the United States if we 
attacked them. And now Europe has begun to doubt that we 
would make the sacrifice involved in using SAC to answer an 
attack directed at it but not at ourselves. 

The many critics of the massive retaliation policy who advocate 
a capability to meet limited aggression with a limited response are 
on firm ground in suggesting that a massive response on such an 
occasion would be unlikely and the threat to use it therefore not 
believed. Moreover this argument is quite enough to make clear 
the critical need for more serious development of the power to 
meet limited aggressions. Another argument, which will not hold 
water and which is in fact dangerous, is sometimes used: Little 
wars are likely, general war improbable. We have seen that this 
mistakes a possibility for its fulfillment. The likelihood of both 
general and little wars is contingent on what we do. Moreover, 
these probabilities are not independent. A limited war involving 
the major powers is explosive. In this circumstance the likelihood 
of general war increases palpably. The danger of general war can 
be felt in every local skirmish involving the great powers. But 
because the balance of terror is supposed, almost universally, to 
assure us that all-out war will not occur, advocates of graduated 
deterrence have proposed to fix the limits of limited conflict in 
ways which neglect this danger. A few of the proposals seem in 
fact quite reckless. 

The emphasis of the advocates of limitation has been on the 
high rather than on the low end of the spectrum of weapons. 
They have talked in particular of nuclear limited wars on the 
assumption that nuclear weapons will favor the defender rather 
than the aggressor and that the West can depend on these to 
compensate for men and conventional arms. Perhaps this will 
sound reminiscent to the reader. These are, evidently, our tactical 
nuclear bombs. I am afraid that this belief will not long stand the 
harsh light of analysis and that it will vanish like its predecessor, 
the comfortable notion that we had a monopoly of strategic 
nuclear weapons and that these only completed the Western and, 
specifically, the American preponderance. I know of no convincing 
evidence that tactical nuclear weapons favor the defender rather 
than the aggressor if both sides use such weapons. The argument 
runs that the offense requires concentration and so the aggressor 


necessarily provides the defender with a lucrative atomic target. 
This ignores the fact that, in a delivered nuclear weapon itself, 
the offense has an enormous concentration of force. The use of 
nuclear weapons in limited wars might make it possible for the 
aggressor to eliminate the existing forces of the defender and to 
get the war over, reaching his limited objective before the defender 
or his allies can mobilize new forces. Like all-out nuclear war it 
puts a premium on surprise and forces in being rather than on 
mobilization potential which is the area in which the West has an 

I am inclined to believe that most of those who rely on tactical 
nuclear weapons as a substitute for disparities in conventional 
forces have in general presupposed a cooperative Soviet attacker, 
one who did not use atomic weapons himself. Here again is an 
instance of Western-preferred Soviet strategies, this time applied 
to limited war. Ironically, according to reports of Soviet tactical 
exercises described in the last few years in the military newspaper. 
The Red Star, atomic weapons are in general employed only by 
the offense, the defender apparently employing Soviet-preferred 
Western strategies. ^^ The symmetry of the optimism of East and 
West here could be quite deadly. 

Whether or not nuclear weapons favor the West in limited war, 
there still remains the question of whether such limitations could 
be made stable. Korea illustrated the possibility of a conventional 
limited war which did not become nuclear, though fought in 
the era of nuclear weapons. It remains to be seen whether there 
are any equilibrium points between the use of conventional and 
all-out weapons. In fact the emphasis on the gradualness of the 
graduated deterrents may be misplaced. The important thing 
would be to find some discontinuities if these steps are not to 
lead too smoothly to general war. Nuclear limited war, simply 
because of the extreme swiftness and unpredictability of its 
moves, the necessity of delegating authority to local commanders, 
and the possibility of sharp and sudden desperate reversals of 
fortune, would put the greatest strain on the deterrent to all-out 
thermonuclear war. 

For this reason I believe that it would be appropriate to 
emphasize the importance of expanding a conventional capability 
realistically and, in particular, research and development in non- 
nuclear modes of warfare. These have been financed by pitifully 
small budgets. Yet I would conjecture that if one considers the 
implications of modern surface-to-air missiles in the context of 


conventional war in which the attacker has to make many sorties 
and expose himself to recurring attrition, these weapons would 
look ever so much better than they do when faced, for example, 
with the heroic task of knocking down 99 percent of a wave of, say 
one thousand nuclear bombers. Similarly, advances in anti-tank 
wire-guided missiles and anti-personnel fragmentation weapons, 
which have been mentioned from time to time in the press, might 
help redress the current balance of East-West conventional forces 
without, however, removing the necessity for spending more 
money in procurement as well as research and development. 

The interdependencies of limited and total war decisions 
make it clear that the development of any powerful limited war 
capability, and in particular a nuclear one, only underlines the 
need, at the same time, for insuring retaliation against all-out 
attack. An aggressor must constantly weigh the dangers of all- 
out attack against the dangers of waiting, of not striking "all- 
out." Sharp reversals in a limited war can increase the dangers 
of waiting. But finally there is no question at this late date that 
strategic deterrence is inadequate to answer limited provocation. 

Strategic deterrence has other inadequacies besides its 
limitations in connection with limited war. Some of these concern 
air defense. The power to deter a rational all-out attack does not 
relieve us of the responsibility for defending our cities in case 
deterrence fails. It should be said at once that such a defense is not 
a satisfactory substitute for deterring a carefully planned surprise 
attack since defense against such an attack is extraordinarily 
difficult. I know in fact of no high confidence way of avoiding 
enormous damage to our cities in a war initiated by an aggressor 
with a surprise thermonuclear attack. The only way of preventing 
such damage with high confidence is to prevent the war. But if we 
could obtain a leakproof air defense, many things would change. 
A limited war capability, for example, would be unimportant. 
Massive retaliation against even minor threats, since it exposed 
us to no danger, might be credible. Deterring attack would also 
not be very important. Of course if both sides had such defenses, 
deterrence would not be feasible either, but this again would be 
insignificant since strategic war would be relatively harmless — at 
least to the targets on both sides if not to the attacking vehicles. It 
is a curious paradox of our recent intellectual history that, among 
the pioneers of both the balance of terror theory of automatic 
deterrence and the small nuclear weapon theory of limited or 
tactical war were the last true believers in the possibility of near 


perfect defense — which would have made deterrence infeasible 
and both it and the ability to fight limited war unimportant. 
However, in spite of the periodic announcements of "technological 
breakthroughs," the goal of emerging unscathed from a surprise 
thermonuclear attack has gotten steadily more remote. 

On the other hand, this does not mean that we can dispense 
with the defense of cities. In spite of deterrence a thermonuclear 
war could be tripped by accident or miscalculation. In this 
case, particularly since the attack might be less well planned, a 
combination of spoiling counterattacks and active and passive 
defenses might limit the size of the catastrophe. It might mean, 
for example, the difference between fifty million survivors and 
a hundred and twenty million survivors, and it would be quite 
wrong to dismiss this as an unimportant difference. 

If strategic deterrence is not enough, is it really necessary 
at all? Many sensitive and serious critics of Western defense 
policy have expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the strategy 
of deterrence. Moreover, since they have almost all assumed 
a balance of terror making deterrence nearly effortless, their 
dissatisfaction with deterrence might very well deepen if they 
accept the view presented here, that deterrence is most difficult. 
Distaste for the product should not be lessened by an increase in 
its cost. I must confess that the picture of the world that I have 
presented is unpleasant. Strategic deterrence will be hard. It 
imposes some dangers of its own. In any case, though a keystone 
of a defense policy, it is only a part, not the whole. The critics who 
feel that deterrence is "bankrupt," to use the word of one of them, 
sometimes say that we stress deterrence too much. I believe this 
is quite wrong if it means that we are devoting too much effort to 
protect our power to retaliate, but I think it quite right if it means 
that we have talked too much of a strategic threat as a substitute 
for many things it cannot replace. Mr. Kennan, for example, 
rejects the bomb as salvation, but explicitly grants it a sorry value 
as a deterrent. (In fact he grants it rather more than I since in his 
policy of disengagement it seems that he would substitute a threat 
something like that of massive retaliation for even conventional 
American and English forces on the Continent.) 

On the whole, I think the burden of the criticism of deterrence 
has been the inadequacy of a thermonuclear capability and 
frequently of, what is not really deterrence at all, the threat to strike 
first. But it would be a fatal mistake to confuse the inadequacy 
of strategic deterrence with its dispensability. Deterrence is not 


dispensable. If the picture of the world I have drawn is rather 
bleak, it could nonetheless be cataclysmically worse. Suppose 
both the United States and the Soviet Union had the power to 
destroy each others' retaliatory forces and society, given the 
opportunity to administer the opening blow. In this case, the 
situation would be something like the old-fashioned Western 
gun duel. It would be extraordinarily risky for one side not to 
attempt to destroy the other, or to delay doing so. Not only can 
it emerge unscathed by striking first; this is the only way it can 
have a reasonable hope of emerging at all. Such a situation is 
clearly extremely unstable. On the other hand, if it is clear that the 
aggressor too will suffer catastrophic damage in the event of his 
aggression, he then has strong reason not to attack, even though 
he can administer great damage. A protected retaliatory capability 
has a stabilizing influence not only in deterring rational attack, 
but also in offering every inducement to both powers to reduce 
the chance of accidental detonation of war. Our own interest in 
"fail-safe" responses for our retaliatory forces illustrates this. A 
protected power to strike back does not come automatically, but 
it can hardly be stressed too much that it is worth the effort. 

There are many other goals for our foreign as well as our 
military policy which have great importance: the strengthening of 
the alliance and of the neutral powers, economic development of 
the less advanced countries, negotiations to reduce the dangers of 
deliberate or accidental outbreak, and some attempts to settle the 
outstanding differences between the East and West. These other 
objectives of military and foreign policy are important and many 
of them are vital. But an unsentimental appraisal suggests no 
sudden change in prospect and in particular no easy removal of 
the basic East- West antagonisms. Short of some hard-to-manage 
peaceful elimination of the basic antagonisms, or a vast and 
successful program of disarmament, it would be irresponsible to 
surrender the deterrent. But in fact progress in disarmament too 
will be made easier if it is complemented by a defense against 

VII. Deterrence, Accidents, and Disarmament 

A deterrent strategy is aimed at a rational enemy. Without a 
deterrent, general war is likely. With it, however, war might still 
occur. This is one reason deterrence is only a part and not the 
whole of a military and foreign policy. 


In fact, there is a very unpleasant interaction. In order to 
reduce the risk of a rational act of aggression, we are being forced 
to undertake measures (increased alertness, dispersal, mobility) 
which, to a smaller extent but still significantly, increase the 
risk of an irrational or unintentional act of war. The accident 
problem, which has occupied an increasingly prominent place 
in newspaper headlines during the past year, is a serious one. It 
would be a great mistake to dismiss the recent Soviet charges on 
this subject as simply part of the war of nerves. In a clear sense 
the great multiplication and spread of nuclear arms throughout 
the world, the drastic increase in the degree of readiness of these 
weapons, and the decrease in the time available for the decision 
on their use must inevitably raise the risk of accident. Though 
they were not in themselves likely to trigger misunderstanding, 
the B-47 accidents this year at Sidi Slimane and at Florence, South 
Carolina, and the recent Nike explosion (of which an Army officer 
in the local command said, "A disaster which could not happen 
did.") suggest the problem. And they are just the beginning. 

There are many sorts of accidents that could happen. There 
can be electronic or mechanical failures of the sort illustrated by 
the B-47 and Nike mishaps; there can be aberrations of individuals, 
perhaps, quite low in the echelon of command; and, finally, there 
can be miscalculations on the part of governments as to enemy 
intent and the meaning of ambiguous signals. (With the rising 
noise level of alarms on the international scene and the shortening 
of the time available for such momentous decisions, this possibility 
becomes more real; with the widespread distribution of nuclear 
weapons with separate national controls, it is possible that there 
will be separate calculations of national interest. These could indi- 
cate a cause for all-out war to some nation doing the calculating 
which, from our standpoint, would be quite inadequate. That is, 
from our standpoint, a "miscalculation.") 

What I have said does not imply that all deterrent strategies 
risk accident equally. The contrary is the case. One of the 
principles of selecting a strategy should be to reduce the chance 
of accident, wherever we can, without a corresponding increase 
in vulnerability to a rational surprise attack. (The problem of 
obtaining warning of a surprise attack, deciding on a response 
and communicating the decision— which last is especially acute 
for the mobile systems — would be very much easier if we did not 
have to be concerned with both goals: to deter a rational act of war 
and to reduce the chance of its happening by accident.) This is 


the significance of the recently adopted "fail-safe" procedures for 
launching SAC which came to the public notice in connection with 
the U.N. debates last May. Such a procedure requires that bombers, 
flushed by some serious yet not unambiguous warning, return to 
base unless they are specifically directed to continue forward. If 
the alarm is false, the bombers will return to base even if there is 
a failure in radio communications. If the alarm was in response 
to an actual attack and some radio communications should fail, 
this failure would mean only a small percentage diminution of 
the force going on to target. The importance of such a procedure 
can be grasped in contrast with the alternative. The alternative 
was to launch bombers on their way to target with instructions to 
continue unless recalled. Here, in case of a false alarm and a failure 
in communications, the single bomber or handful of bombers that 
did not receive the message to return to base might, as a result 
of this mistake, go forward by themselves to start the war. Of all 
the many poor ways to start a war, this would be perhaps the 
worst. Moreover, when one considers the many hundreds of 
vehicles involved, the cumulative probability of accidental war 
would rapidly approach certainty with repeated false alarms. Or 
the planes would have to be kept grounded until evidence of an 
attack was unambiguous — which would make these forces more 
vulnerable and, hence, such an attack more probable. A fail-safe 
procedure extends the period for final commitment. 

While "fail-safe" or, as it is now less descriptively called, 
"positive control" is of great importance, it by no means eliminates 
the possibility of accident. While it can reduce the chance of 
miscalculation by governments somewhat by extending the 
period of final commitment, this possibility nonetheless remains. 

The increased readiness of strategic forces affects the 
disarmament issues and therefore our allies and the neutral 
powers. Here it is important to recognize the obsolescence of 
some of the principal policies we have enunciated before the U.N. 
The Russians, exploiting an inaccurate United Press report which 
suggested that SAC started en masse toward Russia in response 
to frequent radar ghosts, cried out against these supposed 
Arctic flights. The United States response and its sequels stated 
correctly that such flights had never been undertaken except in planned 
exercises — and moreover would not be undertaken in response to such 
high false-alarm rate warnings. We pointed out the essential role of 
quick response and a high degree of readiness in the protection of 
the deterrent force. The nature of the fail-safe precaution was also 


We added, however, to cap the argument, that if the Russians 
were really worried about surprise attack they would accept 
the President's "open skies" proposal. This addition, however, 
conceals an absurdity. Aerial photography would have its uses 
in a disarmament plan— for example, to check an exchange of 
information on the location of ground bases. However, so far as 
surprise is concerned, the "open skies" plan would have direct 
use only to discover attacks requiring much more lengthy, visible, 
and unambiguous preparations than are likely today." The very 
readiness of our own strategic force suggests a state of technology 
which outmodes the "open skies" plan as a counter to surprise 
attack. Not even the most advanced reconnaissance equipment 
can disclose an intention from 40,000 feet. Who can say what the 
men in the blockhouse of an ICBM base have in mind? Or, for 
that matter, what is the final destination of training flights or fail- 
safe flights starting over the Pacific or North Atlantic from staging 

The actions that need to be taken on our own to deter attack 
might usefully be complemented by bilateral arguments for 
inspection and reporting and, possibly, limitation of arms and 
of methods of operating strategic and naval air forces. But the 
protection of retaliatory power remains essential; and the better 
the protection, the smaller the burden placed on the agreement 
to limit arms and modes of operation and to make them subject 
to inspection. Relying on "open skies" alone to prevent surprise 
would invite catastrophe and the loss of power to retaliate. Such 
a plan is worthless for discovering a well prepared attack with 
ICBMs or submarine-launched missiles or a routine mass training 
flight whose destination could be kept ambiguous. A tremendous 
weight of weapons could be delivered in spite of it. 

Although it is quite hopeless to look for an inspection scheme 
which would permit abandonment of the deterrent, this does not 
mean that some partial agreement on inspection and limitation 
might not help to reduce the chance of any sizable surprise attack. 
We should explore the possibilities of agreements involving 
limitation and inspection. But how we go about this will be 
conditioned by our appreciation of the problem of deterrence 

The critics of current policy who perceive the inadequacy 
of the strategy of deterrence are prominent among those urging 
disarmament negotiations, an end to the arms race, and a reduction 
of tension. This is a paramount interest of some of our allies. The 


balance of terror theory is the basis for some of the more light- 
hearted suggestions: if deterrence is automatic, strategic weapons 
on one side cancel those of the other, and it should be easy for 
both sides to give them up. So James E. King, Jr., one of the most 
sensible writers on the subject of limited war, suggests^' that 
weapons needed for "unlimited" war are those which both sides 
can most easily agree to abolish, simply because "neither side 
can anticipate anything but disaster" from their use. "Isn't there 
enough stability in the 'balance of terror'," he asks, "to justify our 
believing that the Russians can be trusted — within acceptable 
limits — to abandon the weapons whose 'utility is confined to the 
threat or conduct of a war of annihilation'?" 

Indeed if there were no real danger of a rational attack, then 
accidents and the "n-th" country problem seem the only problems. 
In fact, they are very prominent in the recent literature on the 
subject of disarmament. As I have indicated, they are serious 
problems and some sorts of limitation and inspection agreement 
could diminish them. Almost everyone seems concerned with 
the need to relax tension. However, relaxation of tension, which 
everyone thinks is good, is not easily distinguished from relaxing 
one's guard, which almost everyone thinks is bad. Relaxation, 
like Miltown, is not an end in itself. Not all danger comes from 
tension. The reverse relation, to be tense where there is danger, is 
only rational. If there is to be any prospect of realistic and useful 
agreement, we must reject the theory of automatic deterrence. 
The size and degree of protection of our retaliatory forces in any 
limitation arrangement would in good part determine the size of 
the force that a violator would have to hide. If the agreed-on force 
were small and vulnerable, no monitorable scheme would be 
likely to be feasible. Most obviously "the abolition of the weapons 
necessary in a general or 'unlimited' war" would offer the most 
insuperable obstacles to an inspection plan since the violator 
could gain an overwhelming advantage from the concealment of 
even a few weapons. The need for a deterrent, in this connection 
too, is ineradicable. 

VIII. Summary 

What can we say then, in sum, on the balance of terror theory 
of automatic deterrence? It is a contribution to the rhetoric rather 
than the logic of war in the thermonuclear age. In suggesting that 
a carefully planned surprise attack can be checkmated almost 


effortlessly, that in short we may resume our deep pre-Sputnik 
sleep, it is wrong and its nearly universal acceptance is terribly 
dangerous. Though deterrence is not enough in itself, it is vital. 
There are two principal points. 

First, even if we can deter general war by a strenuous and 
continuing effort, this will not be the whole of a military, much 
less a foreign policy! Such a policy would not of itself remove 
the danger of accidental outbreak or limit the damage in case 
deterrence failed, nor would it be at all adequate for crises on 
the periphery. Moreover, to achieve deterrent balance will entail 
some new risks requiring insurance — in any case, some foreign 
policy reorientation. 

Second, deterring general war in both the early and late Sixties 
will be hard at best, and hardest both for ourselves and our allies 
wherever we use forces based near the enemy. 

A generally useful way of concluding a grim argument of this 
kind would be to affirm that we have the resources, intelligence 
and courage to make the correct decisions. That is, of course, the 
case. And there is a good chance that we will do so. But perhaps, as 
a small aid toward making such decisions more likely, we should 
contemplate the possibility that they may not be made. They are 
hard, involve sacrifice, are affected by great uncertainties, concern 
matters in which much is altogether unknown and much else must 
be hedged by secrecy; and, above all, they entail a new image of 
ourselves in a world of persistent danger. It is by no means certain 
that we shall meet the test. 

ENDNOTES - Wohlstetter - The Delicate Balance of Terror 

1. 1 want to thank C. J. Hitch, M. W. Hoag, W. W. Kaufmann, 
A. W. Marshall, H. S. Rowen, and W. W. Taylor for suggestions in 
preparation of this article. 

2. George F. Kennan, "A Chance to Withdraw Our Troops in 
Europe," Harper's Magazine, February 1958, p. 41. 

3. P. M. S. Blackett, Atomic Weapons and East-West Relations, 
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1956, p. 32. 

4. Joseph Alsop, "The New Balance of Power," Encounter, May 
1958, p. 4. It should be added that, since these lines were written, 
Mr. Alsop's views have altered. 


5. The New York Times, September 6, 1958, p. 2. 

6. This is not a new error: in an interview with the press on 
December 3, 1941, Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, 
Commander-in-Chief, Far East, for the British forces stated, "There 
are clear indications that Japan does not know which way to turn. 
Tojo is scratching his head." As Japan did not have a definite 
policy to follow, irrevocably, step by step, said Sir Robert, "there 
is a reassuring state of uncertainty in Japan." O. Dowd Gallagher, 
Action in the East, Doubleday, p. 94. 

7. General Pierre M. Gallois, "A French General Analyzes 
Nuclear-Age Strategy," ReaUtes, November, 1958, pp. 19-22, 70- 
71; "Nuclear Aggression and National Suicide," The Reporter, 
September 18, 1958, pp. 23-26. 

8. See endnote 12. 

9. Blackett, op. cit., p. 34. 

10. Ibid., p. 53. 

11. See, for example, "NATO, A Critical Appraisal," by 
Gardner Patterson and Edgar S. Furniss, Jr., Princeton University 
Conference on NATO, Princeton, New Jersey, June 1957, p. 32: 
"Although no one pretended to know, the hypothesis that one- 
third of the striking force of the United States Strategic Air 
Command was in the air at all times was regarded by most as 

12. General Gallois argues that, while alliances will offer no 
guarantee, "a small number of bombs and a small number of 
carriers suffice for a threatened power to protect itself against 
atomic destruction." {ReaUtes, op. cit., p. 71.) His numerical 
illustrations give the defender some 400 underground launching 
sites {ibid., p. 22 and The Reporter, op. cit., p. 25) and suggest 
that their elimination would require between 5,000 and 25,000 
missiles— which is "more or less impossible" — and that in any 
case the aggressor would not survive the fallout from his own 
weapons. Whether these are large numbers of targets from the 
standpoint of the aggressor will depend on the accuracy, yield 


and reliability of offense weapons as well as the resistance of the 
defender's shelters and a number of other matters not specified 
in the argument. General Gallois is aware that the expectation 
of survival depends on distance even in the ballistic missile age 
and that our allies are not so fortunate in this respect. Close-in 
missiles have better bomb yields and accuracies. Moreover, 
manned aircraft — with still better yields and accuracies — can 
be used by an aggressor here since warning of their approach is 
very short. Suffice it to say that the numerical advantage General 
Gallois cites is greatly exaggerated. Furthermore, he exaggerates 
the destructiveness of the retaliatory blow against the aggressor's 
cities by the remnants of the defender's missile force — even 
assuming the aggressor would take no special measures to protect 
his cities. But particularly for the aggressor — who does not lack 
warning — a civil defense program can moderate the damage 
done by a poorly organized attack. Finally, the suggestion that the 
aggressor would not survive the fallout from his own weapons is 
simply in error. The rapid decay fission products which are the 
major lethal problem in the locality of a surface-burst weapon are 
not a serious difficulty for the aggressor. The amount of the slow 
decay products, strontium-90 and cesium-137, in the atmosphere 
would increase considerably more than the amounts that have 
been produced by the rather large number of megatons already 
detonated in the course of testing by the three nuclear powers. This 
might for example, if nothing were done to counter it, increase by 
many times the incidence of such relatively rare diseases as bone 
cancer and leukemia. However, such a calamity, implying an 
increase of, say, 20,000 deaths per year for a nation of 200,000,000 
is of an entirely different order from the catastrophe involving 
tens of millions of deaths, which General Gallois contemplates 
elsewhere. And there are measures that might reduce even this 
effect drastically. (See The RAND Corporation Report R-322-RC, 
Report on a Study of Non-Military Defense, July 1, 1958.) 

13. 1 am indebted to an unpublished paper of Mr. Constantin 
Melnik for this reference. 

14. Aerial reconnaissance, of course, could have an indirect 
utility here for surveying large areas to determine the number 
and location of observation posts needed to provide more timely 


15. James E. King, Jr., "Arms and Man in the Nuclear-Rocket 
Era," The New Republic, September 1, 1958. 


Excerpts on "Missile Gap" from 

General Comments on Senator Kennedy's 

National Security Speeches (circa 1960) 

Albert Wohlstetter 

Excerpted from Albert Wohlstetter, "Some General Com- 
ments on Senator [John F.] Kennedy's National Security 
Speeches," circa 1960, available from Hoover Institution 
Archives, Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter Papers, Writ- 
ings, Box 148, Folder 10. Courtesy of the Wohlstetter 

The defense speeches are, on the whole, sound. The sense of 
what Mr. Kennedy has to say on national defense can be improved 
in detail and conceptually (for example, the analysis of the so- 
called missile gap), but the principal problem they present is that 
there are inconsistencies between the national defense speeches 
and the speeches on disarmament. 


The defense speeches on the whole are sound in empha- 

1. That there are serious deficiencies in our national defense 
posture both for central war and for theater warfare. (The 
emphasis on conventional forces for theater is especially good as 
is the emphasis on a second-strike capability for central war and 
the mention, however brief, of the need for active and passive 
defense of our cities.) 

2. That the expenditure of several billion dollars a year more 
on national defense is necessary and can be made without great 

3. That the purpose of our military policy (that is, our national 
defense) is peaceful. 

4. That the likelihood of concluding an arms agreement 
with the Russians is increased by a strengthening of our military 
posture — "we arm to parley." 

There are some inaccuracies and unclarities in the defense 
speeches themselves, and in particular there are several points 
at which their most important insights are lost. For example. 


the missile gap speech in 1958 recognizes that retaliatory power 
depends on not just the number of offense vehicles on both sides 
but also the active and passive defenses of both sides. However, 
other parts of this speech and other speeches suggest that the 
problem is one of simply a disparity in the number of vehicles and 
is soluble completely by an increase in the number of our Polaris 
and Minutemen. The name "missile gap" itself was suggested 
by an anticipated difference between the number of missiles 
in our force and the number of missiles in the Russian force in 
the early 60' s. There are several things that are wrong with the 
notion of missile gap, some of which are summarized in another 

The Concept of the "Missile Gap" 

The phrase "missile gap" came into use to express the 
anticipated difference between the number of missiles anticipated 
for the Russian force and the number programmed for our own 
in the early 60' s. It is evident that the more rapid growth of the 
Russian missile force is connected with some of our defense 
troubles, but nonetheless the notion of missile gap has many 
deficiencies for the purposes of describing what that trouble is. 

1. The missile gap is the result of a direct comparison between 
pre-attack forces of the Soviet Union and pre-attack forces of 
the United States. In this case, missile forces. Similar direct 
comparisons of pre-attack forces figured in earlier Congressional 
and Administration debates, for example, an earlier flurry about 
an expected gap between the number of Russian heavy bombers 
and American heavy bombers led to an increase in our B-52 
program. The Congressional critics have, especially until very 
recently, compared pre-attack numbers of U.S. bombers with pre- 
attack numbers of Russian bombers or pre-attack numbers of U.S. 
missiles with Russian missiles, etc. The Administration answers 
at first consisted in simply broadening the basis of comparison, 
for example, to the total of pre-attack missiles, and bombers 
(medium and heavy), in the U.S. force with the analogous total in 
the Russian force. 

2. Strictly speaking, neither the critics nor the administration 
respondents were in point when they matched pre-attack forces 
to demonstrate either that there was a deficiency or that there was 


not. The problem so far as deterrence is concerned is to assure 
retaliation which, of course, is a matter of a second-strike capability, 
and it is possible for the victim of aggression to have a larger pre- 
attack force than the aggressor and little or nothing to strike back 
with after the aggression. This is so if his forces are sufficiently 
concentrated, soft, easy to target, lacking in penetration capability, 
etc. And on the other hand it is possible for the reverse to be true. 
In fact the administration program for the 60's is inadequate to 
assure deterrence, but an analysis that shows this has to be subtler 
than a mere matching of pre-attack capabilities for both sides. The 
administration in this last year changed its line of response to its 
critics, and instead of saying that while we would have fewer 
missiles we would have as many or more missiles as bombers in 
total, it said correctly that matching is irrelevant. And it asserted 
that there would be no "deterrence gap." There is nothing wrong 
with the logic of this last argument. It is simply factually in error. 
To demonstrate it requires an analysis of the interactions of 
Russian and U.S. forces assuming various reasonable strategies 
for both sides and considering warning and response time, the 
problems of command and control, and the cumulative problems 
of keeping a relatively accident-safe peacetime operation of the 
force, [and keeping] the capabilities to survive the opening blow, 
to decide on the transition from peace to war, and to penetrate 
active and passive defenses. 

The gap concept simply ignores the complexity of the problem 
and was open to counter by the increased sophistication of the 
administration's response. 

3. The adjective in "missile gap" suggests that the problem 
arrived with the advent of long-range ballistic missiles, and the 
noun "gap" suggests that it is a transient phenomenon. This is also 
suggested in the first item that we have to get successfully through 
the gap. In fact the problem of deterrence became a difficult one 
before the advent of the ballistic missile and stemmed basically 
from the failure to protect our strategic force as distinct from 
simply increasing it. (In fact viewing it as a problem of matching 
pre-strike forces encourages a continuance of this bad habit.) 
Finally, the gap notion, in suggesting that there is a trouble period 
of more or less definite short duration, is excessively cheery. A 
"gap" would seem by definition to have something solid on the 
other side. Unfortunately there is not. It will take continuing 
ingenuity and effort in light of changing technology to get a stable 
deterrent. In some respects, far from getting easier in the late 60' s 


as some people think, deterrence, though achievable and critically 
important, will get harder. 

4. The near side as well as the far side of the gap raises 
problems which are best avoided. They are of two sorts. If the 
vulnerability should come close enough to make it hard to remedy 
in time, there would be valid security and policy questions in 
focusing on this near border of the gap. The second problem is 
related. In speeches which mention the exact year [the gap is to 
begin], one tends successfully to put off the date at which the 
gap is supposed to start. So the missile gap speech of 1958 said 
without qualification "the gap will begin in 1960." The Investment 
for Peace speech delivered in 1960 qualifies this by suggesting 
that the matter will "become critical in 1961, 1962 or 1963." For 
such reasons it seems more sensible to talk about a less precisely 
delimited period beginning with the time our actions can take 
effect and continuing indefinitely to require ingenuity and effort. 


On the Genesis of Nuclear Strategy: 
Letter to Michael Howard (1968) 

Albert Wohlstetter 

Excerpted from Albert Wohlstetter, On the Genesis of 
Nuclear Strategy, unpublished, expanded version of 
Wohlstetter' s unpublished November 6, 1968, letter 
to Michael Howard, with additional materials and 
commentary by James Digby and Arthur Steiner, and 
a note by Michael Howard, revised circa April 1986, 
available from Hoover Institution Archives, Albert and 
Roberta Wohlstetter Papers, Writings, Box 187, Folder 
22. Courtesy of the Wohlstetter Estate, the Digby Estate, 
and Arthur Steiner. 

November 6, 1968 

1550 North State Parkway 

Chicago, Illinois 60610 

Michael Howard 
All Souls College 
Oxford, England 

Dear Michael: 

Let me begin with some comments on a few specific points 
in your paper on the history of nuclear strategy. 1 shall deal with 
the timing and logical content of concepts and doctrine, the role 
of physicists, "academic" historians and social scientists, and the 
then "unacademic" systems analysts whose work used actual 
military deployments, plans and operations; also with the actual 
relations of nuclear forces in the 1950s. My comments concern not 
only those concepts and strategies in whose development 1 was 
personally engaged, but also some earlier history that is traceable 
in the Special Collection on atomic scientists in the Harper 
Collection at the University of Chicago and similar collections at 
the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.^ 1 shall be using my as yet 
unpublished lecture notes on the history of nuclear strategy — and 
especially the notes relevant to the statements in your paper about 


how nuclear weapons were seen to affect and how they affected 
the stable deterrence of war; and the genesis of the first-strike, 
second-strike distinction. 

First, your pages 4ff:^ You contrast the lay notion that 
nuclear weapons would transform the entire nature of war with 
the judgment of professionals:". . . for the professional they 
made remarkably little difference. . . ." You suggest that the 
professional, including not only the military but also scientists 
who had long experience of military planning, held the latter 
view, and cite Blackett and Bush as examples.^ Then you contrast 
a few "academics" who were thinking ahead of what you assume 
to have been the state of the art for the ten years following the 
initiation of planning in NATO at the end of the 1940s. 

However, the very first contrast made — that between the 
professional and the layman— will not sustain examination; and 
the state of the art in the 1950s was not what you suggest. The 
physicists connected with the Manhattan Project (including some 
fitting your description as experienced with military planning) 
were the first to see that nuclear weapons made a great differ- 
ence — though their understanding was understandably deficient. 
The "difference" made is actually multiple and complex. Some 
differences were critical much earlier than you suggest. NATO 
plans in 1949 and later did not recognize the impending technical 
environment in which they would operate in the 1950s. Finally, 
academic social scientists and historians, like Viner, Brodie, and 
Fox,* did indeed have important insights in 1945 and 1946, but 
they did not foresee the possibility that nuclear attacks on nuclear 
strategic forces raised an entirely new order of problem requiring 
a major distinction between "first-strike" and "second-strike" 
forces. Indeed, in some respects, they were even further from 
seeing the problem than the physicists — who caught inconsistent 
glimpses of it. 

As my brief talk at Oxford indicated, it was mainly those rival 
institutions who didn't have the bomb at the war's end (such as 
the Navy, the ground Army — and the Russians) who then said it 
made little difference. And politicians and professionals associated 
with these bombless ones said the same. Military professionals 
connected with the Army Air Corps, and those concerned with 
strategic bombing in particular took an opposite view. (The War 
Department public statements uneasily tried to bridge its air and 
ground advocates' views.) 


The physicists connected with the Manhattan Project at 
first almost unanimously held that the bomb changed things 
completely. Item 1 in the four-point "Creed" of the Federation of 
American Scientists read : " 1 . The bomb is a revolutionary weapon. " 
But then after 1946 these scientists began to associate themselves 
with one side or another in the factional disputes. The majority 
gradually reversed the absolutist position they had previously 
taken that there was no defense against nuclear weapons, that it 
was "one world or none."' But this was after the end of 1946 when 
the Russians turned down the Baruch Plan and it was clear that 
there was not going to be one world. The physicists then looked 
more soberly at the "many-world" alternative to none. For the 
first half of the 1950s, in fact, the majority faction of physicists 
swung to the opposite of their first extreme. Vannevar Bush, 
whose 1949 views you cite, illustrates perfectly both the initial 
position and the change. His memoranda* on September 30, 1944, 
stated that nuclear weapons were of world-shaking importance, 
that they would soon place every population center in the world 
at the mercy of the nation that struck first, etc. 

Let me expand a little on the initial position of the natural 
scientists and engineers connected with the Manhattan Project. 
And then let me treat the views of Viner, Brodie, and Fox in 
relation to those of the Manhattan Project scientists. I think 
it is clear that each of these groups had vital insights. Neither, 
however, can genuinely be said to have understood "the whole 
concept of a stable balance of second-strike forces" (your p. 5)^ in 
the plain sense in which the phrase is used today and in which it 
was defined. Moreover, when looked at historically it is possible 
to see why, for all the honors they deserve, they were not likely to 
have foreseen the relations of forces that called forth the distinc- 
tion in the early 1950s. 

The Manhattan Project Scientists 

A good place to begin with the early views of the atomic 
scientists is the "Prospectus on Nucleonics" by a committee 
headed by Zay Jeffries that included Enrico Fermi, James Franck, 
T. R. Hogness, R. S. Mulliken, R. S. Stone, and C. A. Thomas. It 
was dated September 1944. It contains several ideas that became 
commonplace immediately after Hiroshima.* 

The first was the recognition of the enormous increase in 
destructiveness enabled by nuclear weapons, and, coupled 


with this recognition, the insight that simply overmatching an 
adversary's bombs is not strictly in point. 

A nation, or even a political group, given the opportu- 
nity to start aggression by a sudden use of nuclear de- 
struction devices, will be able to unleash a "blitzkrieg" 
infinitely more terrifying than that of 1939-40. A sudden 
blow of this kind might literally wipe out even the larg- 
est nation — or at least all its production centers — and de- 
cide the issue on the first day of the war. The weight of 
the weapons of destruction required to deliver this blow 
will be infinitesimal compared to that used up on a pres- 
ent day heavy bombing raid. . . . 

The second was the idea of the prospect of nuclear retaliation as, it 
is to be hoped, something that might paralyze an aggressor. 

The most that an independent American nucleonic re- 
armament can achieve is the certainty that a sudden total 
devastation of New York or Chicago can be answered 
the next day by an even more extensive devastation of 
the cities of the aggressor, and the hope that the fear of 
such a retaliation will paralyze the aggressor. 

On both counts, the Jeffries Committee deserve very early credit. 
Yet, if one examines the statements closely, both analytically and 
in their historical context, some essential limitations emerge. 

First, like almost everyone else for years to come, members 
of the Jeffries Committee were thinking primarily of production 
centers and cities as the natural targets for nuclear attack. 
Your quotation from Vannevar Bush in 1949 (and Bush's 1944 
memoranda as well) display the same presumption: "They could 
undoubtedly devastate the cities and the war potential. . . ." For a 
good many reasons, some of which I have described elsewhere,' 
the notion was ingrained very early that an atomic weapon is 
essentially a weapon of "mass destruction" or "terror" to be used 
as the Americans used it at Hiroshima. Eugene Rabinowitch, 
the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and two other 
physicists from the Metallurgical Laboratories in Chicago wrote 
that "Atomic bombs are weapons used only against large cities 
and industrial centers. Therefore, if both sides in a conflict have 
enough atomic bombs to wipe out each other's cities, they are in 


approximately equal position, even if the one has three times more 
bombs than the other." {Life, October 29, 1945, p. 46.) The famous 
Franck Report, which was dated June 11, 1945, proceeded on the 
same assumption: "Atomic bombs containing a larger quantity of 
active material but still weighing less than a ton may be expected 
to be available within ten years which could destroy over ten 
square miles of a city. A nation able to assign 10 tons of atomic 
explosives for the preparation of a sneak attack on this country 
can then hope to achieve the destruction of all industry and most 
of the population in an area from 500 square miles upwards." 
(Signed by J. Franck, D. J. Hughes, J. J. Nickson, E. Rabinowitch, G. 
T. Seaborg, J. C. Stearns, and L. Szilard.)^" Whether cities were the 
only targets or just the preeminent ones, phrases like "weapons 
for mass destruction" came to be used as synonyms for "atomic 
weapons." So they entered the language and so they continue to 
color our thought, even though we have long since come to see the 
critical importance of other targets quite detached from masses of 
people. As might be expected, Oppenheimer in 1945 summarized 
with characteristic eloquence the essentially universal view of an 
atomic weapon: "Surprise and... terror are as intrinsic to it as are 
the fissionable nuclei. "^^ 

Oppenheimer' s understanding had been formed in the 
circumstances of the original use of the weapon. The Interim 
Committee and the Scientific Panel, of which Oppenheimer was 
a member, were seeking as a target "a vital war plant employing 
a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers' 
houses. "^^ As was not infrequently the case in the strategic bombing 
debate between the wars, there was a certain ambivalence about 
the purpose of destroying "closely surrounding" civilian workers 
and their houses in addition to the "vital war plant." The flow of 
products from a war plant, however "vital," supported the war 
only by way of a pipeline of material to the fighting. Interrupting 
the material flow would reduce stocks and have an indirect and 
delayed effect. So also for the plant workers taken simply as a 
factor of production. But the sudden act of annihilating the plant 
and the workers could shock and inspire terror and so have a 
direct and immediate effect on the popular and governmental will 
to continue the war. Standard doctrine of strategic bombing, both 
English and American, stressed not only the destruction of war- 
supporting industry, but also the weakening of an adversary's 
will to resist. Though the Interim Committee and the Scientific 
Panel agreed that "the United States ... could not concentrate on a 
civilian area," it chose a war plant closely surrounded by workers' 


houses "to make as profound a psychological impression on as 
many of the inhabitants as possible," to administer "the maximum 
surprise shock." 

Surprise at Hiroshima had then a function quite different 
from its role in surprise attack on nuclear forces. It reduced the 
probability that the active defenses would be alerted and the 
single unescorted plane carrying the A-bomb intercepted. But 
even more important, since delivery could have been assured by 
other devices— for example, by an escort of hundreds of planes — 
surprise was an intrinsic element in the terror and shock aimed at 
and achieved. It is easy to see why terror, and surprise in relation 
to terror, were seen not only by prominent members of the 
Scientific Panel, but also by the Manhattan Project physicists and 
by a wider public, as the essentials after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
The A-bomb was preeminently a weapon to be used against 
population centers or against industry embedded in population 

That this was an almost universal view of the Manhattan 
Project physicists I can confirm on the basis of an examination of 
hundreds of their statements made from 1944 to 1946. This view 
led to other consequences I cannot elaborate on in this letter. For 
example, it displaced the matching of weapons against weapons 
with an equally mechanical numerical matching of bombs 
against cities. This in turn led to the stereotypes of "overkill" in 
which numbers or total yield of bombs are compared with total 
population (now usually the population of the world). And it led 
natural and social scientists to take degree of urbanization as the 
measure of a country's vulnerability. In 1945 and 1946 this was 
taken to imply the intrinsic disadvantage to the United States in 
an arms race with the Soviet Union; and when after 1946 physicists 
began to think of defense as an alternative to world government, 
they thought of defending cities and began by talking especially 
of one most costly and implausible measure — namely to outrace 
bomb stockpiles by multiplying and dispersing cities. 

However, what is essential for this letter is the way their view 
of the bomb as preeminently a city-destroyer blinkered them as 
to the possibilities of using it to destroy strategic nuclear forces. 
Perhaps the most revealing testimony in this respect is that of the 
Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir.^^ I mentioned it in my talk at 
Oxford. He pictures four stages in an arms race: 


1. We alone have atomic bombs. We are then secure at 
that time. 2. Other nations also have atomic bombs, but 
they haven't enough to destroy all our cities; but we have 
enough to destroy all of theirs. We are still relatively se- 
cure, and nobody is likely to start an attack under those 
conditions. 3. Two or more nations have enough bombs 
to destroy all cities, perhaps 10,000 bombs of the kind 
that we have now. That will probably come in an arma- 
ment race. Retaliation, however, would be expected and 
that would be a deterring factor, but perhaps not deci- 

As was mentioned yesterday, and I think discussed by 
General Groves, 40,000 people might be wiped out in the 
United States by an attack of that kind, and it would not 
help us much to destroy 40,000,000 people in the nation 
of attack. . . . 

There is, however, a fourth stage which would automati- 
cally come sooner or later in any unlimited armament 
race. We can confidently assume that there are going to 
be discoveries made in this field. They may be made 4 to 
5 years hence. They may be made 10 or 15 years hence, 
but it is almost certain that we will have atomic bombs 
a thousand times as powerful as those that now exist by 
means that are now undiscovered. 

It could be done by a cheaper means of production. 
Instead of producing 10,000 bombs, it is conceivable 
that by cheaper means of construction you could have 
300,000 bombs. 

That would be enough to treat every square mile in the 
United States the way Hiroshima was. There would then 
be no retaliation. There wouldn't be 60 percent of the 
people left; there might be 2 percent of the people left, 
and under those conditions you can see what happens 
in the world. 

In short, so fixed was the notion that cities or production centers 
were the primary targets for nuclear weapons that Langmuir could 
only foresee nuclear damage to nuclear retaliatory forces when 
there would be enough bombs to cover the entire country — and so 
inevitably, as a by-product, nuclear strike forces too! The 300,000 
bomb calculation is quite typical of the gross computations of the 
time. Langmuir took the 10 square mile damage area sometimes^* 
roughly estimated for Hiroshima and, assuming square bombs. 


divided it into the 3 million square mile area of the United States. 
A good many of Blackett's calculations in his first book are of the 
same order of precision. 

This suggests some limitations on the physicists' under- 
standing of the problems of retaliation and its virtues. If, in fact, 
nuclear weapons to all intents and purposes were usable only 
against cities and industry, nuclear retaliatory forces would be 
intrinsically quite safe. Effortlessly safe, since they wouldn't 
be attacked. Retaliation would be assured. There would be, 
essentially, no distinction between striking first and striking 
second (and therefore no need for a first-strike, second-strike 
distinction.) And this automatically suggests, especially today, 
the prospect of deterrence. And, especially today, this doesn't 
seem the worst of all possible worlds. To us, it suggests at least 
a limited but important kind of stability. However, it would be a 
mistake to read our views into the writings of the physicists at the 
time. In fact, the Jeffries Report didn't think much of "the hope 
that the fear of such a retaliation will paralyze the aggressor." 
It went on to say, "The whole history of mankind teaches that 
this is a very uncertain hope, and that accumulated weapons of 
destruction 'go off sooner or later, even if this means a senseless 
mutual destruction." The Jeffries Committee, then, uttered one 
of the earlier versions of the apocalyptic argument about the 
inevitability of nuclear war through some irrational act: "sooner 
or later." (Observe that Langmuir, too, refers to the deterring 
prospect of retaliation, but without enthusiasm.) 

Moreover, in between the two paragraphs [of the Jeffries 
report] I have cited earlier, which drew the picture of a nuclear 
war as a sequence in which an aggressor destroyed the cities 
and production centers of his adversary, who in turn inflicted 
a similar mass destruction on the aggressor, the authors of the 
report included a fascinating analogy of the nuclear dilemma with 
the situation of two men equipped with machine guns in a room 
of 100 X 100 feet. The first to attack would not only destroy the 
other but, provided he attacked soon enough, emerge unscathed. 
Here the difference between striking first and striking second is 
all important, and there is an enormous incentive to preempt, a 
maximum of instability. (The close machine gun duel analogy has 
been attributed to Eugene Wigner^^ and used by other physicists 
as well.) 

The Jeffries Report, then, contains side by side two incompatible 
pictures of the revolution wrought by nuclear weapons. In the 
one picture, striking first is of no advantage, since the other side 


inevitably could retaliate in kind. In the other picture, striking first 
is decisive, since neither side could retaliate. These incompatible 
pictures were not seen to be incompatible. Each existed, so to speak, 
by itself. And, by itself, neither would indicate any urgent need 
for a first-strike, second-strike distinction of the kind that grew 
out of the Base Study. ^*' Neither picture called for basic choices 
and difficult efforts in the design and construction of a nuclear 
force specifically to survive nuclear attacks. 

If we were to use the latter distinction, we might say that, 
in the one picture of the nuclear world, neither side could have 
a capacity for striking second; in the other picture of the nuclear 
world, with both sides directing their attacks on cities, each side 
with nuclear weapons had a capacity for "striking second," that 
is, retaliating against the other automatically. However, that is to 
use the words quite differently from the way they were defined 
when I introduced the distinction at the start of the 1950s. There 
the capacity to strike second plainly referred to the ability of a nuclear 
force to strike back after the force itself had been subject to nuclear attack. 
To find it urgent to make the distinction, one had to perceive both 
that it was possible and useful to get a second-strike capability and 
that it was neither inevitable nor easy. In a sense, the Manhattan 
Project physicists missed the target on both sides, as the Jeffries 
Report and many other documents illustrate. The world of the 
two close machine gunners missed it on the left by failing to see 
the measure of stability that might be brought by making even 
sudden attack highly risky. And a world in which one nuclear 
country would open a war with a nuclear attack only on a second 
nuclear country's cities and production centers missed it on the 
right by making nuclear retaliation automatic, or a minor problem. 
Surprise and striking early were vital in the first world; they were 
secondary in the second world of terror bombing of cities. 

The fascinating thing is that these two worlds existed side by 
side without jostling, not only in the Jeffries Report, but for more 
than two years following, in the statements of the Manhattan 
Project physicists. In nuclear weapons, [as noted above, Robert 
Oppenheimer said] in 1945, "the elements of surprise and of 
terror are as intrinsic to it as are the fissionable nuclei." But if the 
element of terror were primary, the element of surprise would be 
important only insofar as it seconded the shock of terror visited on 
the population attacked. A city nuclear attack, unlike the surprise 
at Pearl Harbor which the physicists frequently cited, would 
ignore direct military targets, except as incidents or by-product. 


It might destroy war industry and so prevent mobilization. But it 
would not prevent an already mobilized strategic force, separate 
from the victim's own cities, from retaliating against the attacker's 
cities and war-supporting industry. The temptation to aggression 
is then hard to see. "They are weapons," said Oppenheimer, 
"of aggression, of surprise, and of terror." There was a latent 
contradiction in the physicists' view. 

It is this contradiction that Jacob Viner observed. It is easy for 
us to see it today. It was by no means easy then. Viner deserves 
great credit. By the same token, the physicists whose lack in 
this respect Viner observed nonetheless deserve high honors 
for having generated some of the basic issues and above all for 
having recognized that nuclear weapons were revolutionary. It 
is not, after all, surprising that they understood only a small part 
of what this revolution meant. They did not see that if nuclear 
forces were, as they assumed, safe from nuclear attack, surprise 
was by definition of little advantage. Neither did they pursue 
the line of analysis suggested by the machine gunners in a small 
room. The analogy is notable precisely because in it the gunners 
are not safe and there is no distinction between the safety of the 
"population" and the retaliatory force. The scattered insights of 
the Manhattan Project physicists did not penetrate any significant 
distance into the possibility that nuclear forces themselves were 
not easily made safe from one another, and that in their case being 
surprised might be fatal. However, Viner and the other social 
scientists and historians in the late 1940s did not see this either, 
and in fact they were in some ways further from seeing it than the 
physicists because they followed only the "unattacked-retaliatory- 
force" branch of the physicists' thought, with its implicit relative 

The Social Scientists and Historians 

Viner' s extraordinary paper on "The Implications of the Atomic 
Bomb for International Relations" took off from the physicists' 
assumptions that nuclear weapons were city-destroyers, but 
rejected their apocalyptic conclusion— since 

the atomic bomb, unlike battleships, artillery, airplanes, 
and soldiers, is not an effective weapon against its own 
kind ... it does not much matter strategically how much 
more efficient the atomic bomb can become provided 


superiority in efficiency affects chiefly the fineness of 
the dust to which it reduces the city upon which it is 
dropped. . . . There seems to be universal agreement that 
under atomic-bomb warfare there would be a new and 
tremendous advantage in being first to attack and that 
the atomic bomb therefore gives a greater advantage 
than ever to the aggressor. I nevertheless remain uncon- 
vinced. . . . What difference will it then make whether it 
was country A which had its cities destroyed at 9 a.m. 
and country B which had its cities destroyed at 12 a.m., 
or the other way round? 

Viner read his paper on November 16, 1945.^^ He must have 
written it only a couple of months after he first heard of the bomb 
when it exploded over Hiroshima, and on all counts this paper, to 
which Brodie and Fox acknowledged their indebtedness, must be 
seen as one of the landmarks in the history of the development of 
strategic doctrine.^* 

What is more, Viner not only detected one crucial strand of 
inconsistency in the strategic thinking of the Manhattan Project 
scientists; he brought to the political issues a kind of sophisticated 
awareness of the character of the international system which was 
quite beyond the physicists. His remarks on the dim prospects 
of early world government are the sort of thing that one might 
have expected from a distinguished student of both international 
relations and international economics. And Bernard Brodie 
and William Fox, and several others of like training, made very 
important similar points, points that were very rare at the time. 
There are many other matters of interest in Viner. Viner' s is the 
first, and in some ways still the best, statement of Pierre Gallois's 
position on the stabilizing effect of the spread of nuclear weapons.^' 
Wrong, I think. Its error is, of course, pardonable in November 
1945; it flowed from the fundamental assumption of great stability 
because of the automatic or nearly automatic invulnerability of 
strategic forces, and from a belief that they would therefore be 
"equalizers," restoring in fact essential features of the 18th and 
19th century international system. 

Viner' s insights were limited by the scant information he 
had derived from the physicists. He was aware of this and said 
specifically that he was working with "a few facts and a few 
surmises about the military effectiveness and the cost of atomic 
bombs": information that he deliberately exposed to his audience. 


including many of the most famous physicists associated with the 
Manhattan Project. 

The bomb has a minimum size, and in this size it is, and 
will remain, too expensive — or too scarce, whether ex- 
pensive or not — to be used against minor targets. Its tar- 
gets therefore must be primarily cities, and its military 
effectiveness must reside primarily in its capacity to de- 
stroy urban population and productive facilities. Under 
atomic bomb warfare, the soldier in the army would be 
safer than his wife and children in their urban home. 

In this set of assumptions and in drawing inferences from them, 
Viner observed one inconsistency of the physicists but shared 
some inconsistencies with the physicists. He assumed that the 
bomb would be too expensive for even the superpowers to 
acquire enough of them to use against targets other than cities. 
Yet he assumed that they would be cheap enough so that even 
small powers could acquire them in substantial numbers. (In fact, 
the physicists sometimes explicitly talked of the bomb as cheap, 
especially when they were stressing the dangers of the spread of 
nuclear weapons.) But the principal upshot of Viner's analysis 
was to suggest that nuclear weapons would, in the nature of the 
case, be rather stabilizing, that they would reduce the importance 
of surprise and restore military significance to the weaker 

Viner has one sentence that refers in passing to the possibility 
of atomic or other attack on nuclear forces. But his perfunctory 
dismissal of this possibility is entirely characteristic and displays 
as much as anything else how far he was from recognizing the 
essentials of surprise nuclear attack. He says, "No country 
possessing atomic bombs will be foolish enough to concentrate 
either its bomb-production and bomb-throwing facilities or its 
bomb stockpiles at a small number of spots vulnerable to atomic 
bomb or other modes of attack." In fact, a policy of simply 
multiplying the number of points containing these nuclear 
facilities could hardly hope to match the means of destroying these 
facilities, among other reasons because such simple multiplication 
if very extensive is very costly. However, if Viner did not think 
seriously of the problem of nuclear attack on nuclear forces at that 
time, it is hard to find anyone else who did. 


Brodie starts from Viner's notion that since a nuclear exchange 
would be directed at cities and industry, the element of surprise is 
not as important as the physicists assumed. In fact, he cites Viner 
as having first suggested and elaborated the idea (see pp. 73, 74 of 
The Absolute Weapon) }° And, as he says, his paper is plainly in debt 
to Viner in numerous ways. Like Viner, he is thinking of nuclear 
weapons as being primarily directed at cities and industry, and 
for much the same reason. 

The enormous concentration of power in the individu- 
al bomb, irreducible below a certain high limit except 
through deliberate and purposeless wastage of effi- 
ciency, is such as to demand for the full realization of 
that power targets in which the enemy's basic strength 
is comparably concentrated. Thus, the city is a made-to- 
order target, and the degree of urbanization of a country 
furnishes a rough index of its relative vulnerability to 
the atomic bomb (p. 99). 

His First Postulate, in the preceding chapter, reads that: 

The power of the present bomb is such that any city in the 
world can be effectively destroyed by one to ten bombs . 
. . (p. 24, emphasis added). 

Any damage done to a retaliatory capability he thinks of as a by- 
product of the nuclear attack which the aggressor would have 
directed at cities. This is plain on pp. 88 and 89, but at many 
points elsewhere. And he is thinking of the problem of retaliation 
essentially as that of maintaining the nuclear retaliatory force in 
isolation from the disaster areas that the cities would become 
under nuclear attack; and of protecting it [the retaliatory force] 
from conventional ground forces. 

The ability to fight back after an atomic bomb attack will de- 
pend on the degree to which the armed forces have made them- 
selves independent of the urban communities and their indus- 
tries for supply and support. The proposition just made 
is the basic proposition of atomic bomb warfare. . . . 
(p. 88, emphasis in the original). 


In fact, Brodie considers and dismisses the "private arguments" 
of "certain scientists" that nuclear attack on nuclear launch sites 
might be effective without ground force seizure of the launch 

Certain scientists have argued privately that ... a nation 
committing aggression with atomic bombs would have 
so paralyzed its opponent as to make invasion wholly 
superfluous. It might be alleged that such an argument 
does not give due credit to the atomic bomb, since it 
neglects the necessity of preventing or minimizing re- 
taliation in kind. If the experience with the V-1 and V-2 
launching sites in World War II means anything at all, it 
indicates that only occupation of such sites will finally 
prevent their being used. Perhaps the greater destruc- 
tiveness of the atomic bomb as compared with the bombs 
used against V-1 and V-2 sites will make an essential dif- 
ference in this respect, but it should be remembered that 
thousands of tons of bombs were dropped on those sites 
(pp. 91 and 92). 


An invasion designed to prevent large-scale retaliation 
with atomic bombs to any considerable degree would 
have to be incredibly swift and sufficiently powerful to 
overwhelm instantly any opposition. Moreover, it would 
have to descend in one fell swoop upon points scattered 
throughout the length and breadth of the enemy territo- 
ry. The question arises whether such an operation is pos- 
sible, especially across broad water barriers, against any 
great power which is not completely asleep and which 
has sizable armed forces at its disposal (pp. 92 and 93). 


The invasion and occupation of a great country solely 
or even chiefly by air would be an incredibly difficult 
task even if one assumes a minimum of air opposition 
(p. 93). 

Brodie regarded ground force occupation of strategic air bases 
as necessary to prevent retaliation, but infeasible. However, he 


regarded ground force invasion as both feasible and necessary 
to consolidate the effects of atomic bombardment of cities and 
industry. Much the same view is reflected in the official Air Force 
position expressed by General H. H. Arnold at about that time.^^ 

The realistic insights of Viner, Brodie, and Fox are best 
appreciated as a contrast with the utopianism of the scientists at 
the end of the war. The Manhattan Project physicists (and a good 
many others who knew about the Manhattan Project early and 
felt that it had revolutionary implications for warfare) believed 
that it made both necessary and possible a revolutionary change 
in international relations. They were thinking of something 
like world government, or at least very extensive international 
control, and frequently said that it was feasible just because it 
was urgent and necessary. The apocalyptic predictions they 
made tended, therefore, to have a hortatory character. They 
were appeals for a soul change in world statesmen. Publicists 
like Norman Cousins in his Modern Man Is Obsolete accepted the 
essentials of their apocalyptic view.^^ Viner, Brodie, and Fox were 
particularly discerning and incisive in their perception that, on 
one hand, ways of organizing the world for perfect peace were 
not then available, nor would be in the foreseeable future, and 
that, on the other hand, the alternative of nuclear annihilation was 
not inevitable, that there were some elements of stability implicit 
in the scientists' own picture of nuclear relations, or rather in one 
of their pictures. 

In sum, Viner, Brodie, and Fox made many cogent points 
of great importance. But none seriously considered the problem 
of designing a nuclear force to survive a major nuclear surprise 
attack, nor did they show any awareness that this was a problem 
at all, much less a basic one. In fact, they were further from seeing 
this than some of the scientists — inconsistently to be sure, in writing 
and in "private arguments" —were at least some of the time. 

The Military Views and the Military Stance 

As I have mentioned, the Manhattan Project physicists, once 
they had abandoned hope for early agreement on international 
control of atomic energy, tended to line up with one faction or 
another of the military. After the Russians turned down the 
Baruch proposal, some physicists, like Edward Teller, thought 
about fusion weapons and improvements of the strategic offense. 
Many more, like Bush, Oppenheimer, Rabinowitch, and Rabi,^^ 


turned to the defense of cities and the problems of battlefield war. 
Project East River considered civil defense. The Lincoln Summer 
Study focused on the active defense of the industrial heartland 
of the United States and on providing early warning for fighter 
interceptors.^* Project Vista proposed battlefield nuclear weapons 
for the defense of Europe. It is familiar now that the factional 
disputes among the scientists, and the corresponding ones within 
and among the services, were bitter and destructive. Perhaps the 
most fascinating aspect of these disputes (one that has not been 
observed) is their total neglect of the increasingly serious problem 
of the vulnerability of strategic forces, of the problem of obtaining 
a defended offense. This neglect affected both the military and the 
scientists, including all the principal factions of each. 

The service positions on the A-bomb in the immediate 
postwar period were predictable. The War Department held that 
the A-bomb "has given the offensive a marked advantage, at 
least for the time being, over the defensive." {Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists, June 1947, reprinting Army Navy Journal for April 12, 
1947.) The Navy Department, on the other hand, had it that "the 
present technological trend is decidedly in favor of the defense." 
It "decidedly favors the defense of large centers of population 
and industry." {Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 1947.) This 
disagreement deepened and culminated in the B-36 Hearings at 
the end of the decade, where the Navy said that the bomb had 
little chance of getting through and that it would do little harm 
if it did. (I mentioned the brave naval officer who said one could 
stand at one end of the runway at Washington National Airport 
"with no more protection than the clothes you now have on, 
and have an atom bomb explode at the other end of the runway 
without serious injury to you.")^^ And LeMay^* affirmed that the 
bomber always gets through. 

However, the Navy never brought up the subject of the liability 
of nuclear bombers to be destroyed before takeoff on the ground 
by enemy nuclear bombers; and neither did the War Department, 
nor its Air Force split-off. General Arnold (then Air Force Chief 
of Staff) early in 1946 argued for the possibility, though not the 
certainty, of an atomic stalemate through mutual fear: 

Now the arguments given above are not intended 
to comfort us with the thought that, if all nations had 
atomic weapons no nation would use them for fear of 
retaliation. All they show is that there is a possibility of 


stalemate with respect to destruction of cities by atomic 
bombs {One World or None, p. 32, emphasis in the origi- 

He was thinking of cities, though with the usual ambiguities about 
industrial support of military strength, and the "will to resist" 
(see p. 27). His view was less downright and abstract, though not 
unlike that of Viner: 

Our defense can only be a counteroffensive; we must be 
prepared to give as good as we take or better. Should 
we ever find ourselves facing an aggressor who could 
destroy our industrial machine without having his de- 
stroyed in turn, our defeat would be assured. Thus our 
first defense is the ability to retaliate even after receiv- 
ing the hardest blow the enemy can deliver. This means 
weapons in adequate numbers strategically distributed 
so that no enemy is better situated to strike our industry 
than we are to strike his {One World or None, p. 31). 

The war would be an exchange of blows against cities and 

I had intended to describe in some detail the characteristic 
developments in the nuclear doctrines of each of the services. 
Unfortunately, there isn't time for that. Nor is there time to 
say much on the history of the actual plans and operations of 
the Strategic Air Command and the Air Defense Command. ^^ 
However, I will say a little about actual deployments, operations, 
and plans for most of the 1950s. 

A rough way to characterize the nuclear offense stance is 
to say that it was focused on the problem of coordinating an 
immense attack capable of penetrating Russian area and local 
active defenses in order to deliver a decisive blow, primarily to 
the industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. The planning for this 
was ingenious and efficient — given time to get the attack under 
way undisturbed. And almost the only sorts of disturbance that 
had been seriously considered were those that might have been 
by-products of a Russian attack on American cities, or sabotage, 
or conventional ground attack. Such "by-product" disturbances 
to SAC were, correctly, not anticipated to be large or extremely 
difficult to overcome. In this respect, the active offense stance 
reflected a view similar to that of Viner and Brodie. 


A rough way to characterize the defense stance against nuclear 
attack would parallel this focus of the offense force on the enemy 
active defense of the enemy heartland. Our defense was focused on 
the problem of intercepting Russian bombers before they reached 
the bomb release line over American cities and war-supporting 
industry. The contiguous radars were deployed primarily in the 
Northeast industrial heartland and near our coastal cities. Though 
they had a variety of problems, including that of saturation by a 
large raid employing electronic countermeasures, the radar and 
air defense bomber system was able to detect and track bombers 
and guide fighters toward the interception of a massive raid in 

Our offense and our defense stances changed over time as 
our own and the Russian stocks of nuclear weapons swelled. But 
in some essentials they changed not at all. Viner, an excellent 
economist, had derived from the physicists and chemists in 1945 
the assumption that A-bombs would always be expensive and 
scarce because fissile material was scarce. (Eugene Rabinowitch's 
writings at the time offer examples.) However, an elementary 
economic operation — raising the price of uranium — offered 
incentives to a great many uranium prospectors and it soon 
became clear that bomb stockpiles could be greatly expanded and 
that there were bombs enough for military targets in addition to 
cities and industry. As our stockpile expanded, military targets, 
including strategic bases, were added to our attack plans. And in 
a symmetrical way the Air Defense Command assumed that with 
expanding Russian stockpiles a massive Russian attack directed 
at the American industrial heartland would add on some bombs 
and bomb carriers directed at our nuclear force. ^* However, in 
both cases these extra targets were attachments to attacks directed 
basically at cities and industry. This was a quite natural way to see 
the problem, given the history of views I have already outlined, 
but it is important to note that it had a critical effect on the chance 
that the vulnerability of SAC would be observed. For the U.S. 
defenders anticipated a massive Russian attack of anywhere from 
500 to over 1000 bombers directed at cities and industry and using 
techniques of saturation rather than the methods of minimizing 
warning possible for a smaller force directed solely or mainly at 
SAC.^' So massive a Russian attack was likely to provide strategic 
warning and would quite reliably have given extended tactical 
warning — enough tactical warning, perhaps, to be useful to even 
a very ponderous and complex strategic force. This was by no 


means true, however, for an adversary who designed his first raid 
specifically to disrupt and destroy a strategic retaliation. Surprise 
turned out to be as important as the Manhattan Project physicists 
had assumed, but for very different reasons. 

SAC bases, unfortunately, were located primarily outside the 
radar cover that had been designed for the defense of cities and 
industries: they were mainly not in the Northeast, but in the South 
and West, where the flying weather for training is good, and for 
the most part where they would not be engulfed in a disaster of 
the cities. The bombers and tankers were concentrated on a few 
crowded and shelterless bases (some holding a total of about 
120 bombers and tankers). The bases in the continental United 
States expanded slowly in number, reaching about 28 or 29 in 
1956. Other, equally indispensable elements of the force, such as 
the stockpiles of bombs and command and control, were even 
more concentrated. The bombers normally were stripped down 
and in maintenance, a state that enabled very high availability 
rates, given notice of a day or two, but extremely low readiness 
for the first six hours after receiving warning. However, even 
an improved warning network, designed specifically for the 
protection of SAC, could not have assured anything like that much 
warning. But the warning network had been designed primarily 
for the protection of cities and industry. If the strategic force could 
have survived a modest attack on its home bases, the plans called 
for an immensely complex operation of coordinating slow tankers 
and bombers, picking up [nuclear ordnance] at bomb stockpile 
sites generally far from the home base, and finally deploying to 
overseas bases, which were far more vulnerable than the home 
bases left behind. Fred Hoffman remarked during the Base Study 
that the problem of the analyst looking soberly at the vulnerability 
of SAC sometimes boiled down to propping SAC up over one 
barrier so that it could be knocked down at the next, so many 
were the alternative, entirely feasible, ways of destroying it. 

At several points in your paper you suggest that the Russians 
had no capability for attacking the United States until rather late — 
until after they had acquired a stock of thermonuclear weapons, 
or after they had acquired very long-range aircraft or possibly 
after Sputnik and the intercontinental missile. In fact, before 1955 
the Russians had enough planes with adequate range and enough 
bombs with adequate yield to have done a great deal of damage 
to American cities, if not intercepted. This was understood and 
displayed in all of the intelligence estimates during a period when 


intelligence generally underestimated the Russians. Even more 
important, only a fraction of their estimated capability was enough to 
dispose of SAC. 

Finally, the Russian force itself was even more concentrated 
and vulnerable than the American strategic force. Neither side 
had a second-strike capability, in the sense in which I defined it. 

I said at the meeting in Oxford that the vulnerability of SAC 
had nothing to do with Air Force stupidity, or folly, or anything of 
the sort. Nuclear weapons were new; their implications were little 
understood; and the strategic force planners tended to examine 
the meaning of nuclear weapons to see how they affected the 
answers to the questions of strategic bombing as these questions 
had been understood previously. (See my comments in "Analysis 
and Design of Conflict Systems," pp. 109ff and 125ff .)^'' Moreover, 
the Navy and ground Army themselves failed to see that nuclear 
weapons raised new questions of the vulnerability of retaliatory 
forces before launching. And the limitation was not simply 
military; it affected natural and social scientists as well. Nor were 
these matters obvious to able systems analysts, who had access to 
data and worked on other closely related questions. 

Systems Analysts 

At the end of the 1940s and in the early 1950s there were a 
good many analysts working in operational research organizations 
attached to the Strategic Air Command or the Air Defense 
Command. They dealt with important but relatively restricted 
questions that had to be answered to improve decisions by the 
operational commanders: questions such as techniques for the 
offense for penetrating defenses; alternative ways of releasing 
weapons over target, such as high altitude versus low altitude 
bomb release; and techniques for the defense system for sifting 
out potentially hostile attacks from the normal air traffic patterns 
displayed on radar. For this purpose they used actual data on 
the performance of men and equipment and the actual detailed 

At Rand this sort of study was extended to include a much 
wider and longer range of choices, involving choices among 
equipments that would be available several years hence and that 
would alter significantly current operational performance, such as 
speed, altitude, range of bomber aircraft, performance of defense 
radars, and a host of other matters. Some of these studies were 


excellent. The systems studies for active defense led by Barlow 
and Digby (R-227 in 1951 and R-250 in 1953)^^ were particularly 
impressive. Impressive and serious treatments of the functioning 
of immensely complicated systems of interdependent elements 
were done in very realistic and objective fashion on the basis of 
a very large effort by many researchers closely aware of current 
military operations as well as of impending changes in the state of 
the art. These persistent and careful efforts contrasted greatly with 
crash campaigns like the Lincoln Summer Study, which exploited 
the famous names of Manhattan Project physicists to sell some 
gadgetry such as the DEW line and the Whirlwind computer, or 
later the SAGE system, as handy-dandy solutions to the problem 
of getting nearly perfect active defense of cities and industry. If 
the subject of this letter were the problem of limiting damage in 
case deterrence fails, there would be a good deal to say about 
the Barlow-Digby study. Moreover, unlike minimum deterrence 
theorists, I regard active defense as a subject of continuing 

However, I am dealing here mainly with the development 
of our understanding of problems of stable deterrence. The most 
important observation to be made in this respect about the offense 
bombing systems analyses — such as that of Quade-Shamberg- 
Specht, A Comparison of Airplane Systems for Strategic Bombing, 
September 1950 (R-208)^^ and the defense systems analyses led by 
Barlow and Digby — is that, as far as the problems of deterrence and 
retaliation were concerned, these studies exhibited exactly the same 
tunnel vision as did the military plans and the informal utterances 
and essays of the natural and social scientists. The offense systems 
analyses examined systematically alternative equipments and 
methods for American bombers to penetrate Russia's defense of 
her heartland. They matched American bombers against Russian 
fighters and surface-to-air missiles. The defense systems analyses, 
on the other hand, essentially matched Russian bombers against 
American interceptors and local defenses; moreover, even when 
they added our SAC bases in the United States to the Russian list 
of offense targets, as in the case of our military plans, this was 
done simply as a perturbation of an attack directed essentially at 
crippling population and industry. The defense analyses never 
therefore considered attacks specifically designed for the purpose 
of surprising and destroying the strategic force. 

The systems analysis embodied in the Base Study addressed 
that problem. It observed that surprise had a different and greater 


significance for the possible nuclear destruction of the retaliatory 
force than it did for an attack on cities and industry. 

The advantages of mounting the first surprise attack of a 
war (little or no warning of city populations, confusion 
of defenses) have been generally recognized. The sur- 
prise attack is doubly important for attack on strategic 
bases, since many of the most vital and vulnerable ele- 
ments on these bases are mobile, and, if the attack comes 
as no surprise, aircraft, personnel and essential material 
may have been evacuated from the bases before bomb 
release. . . . The surprise attack, large or small scale, must 
be regarded as a major threat to SAC survival (p. 233).^^ 

Exploiting the information, expertise, and methods that had been 
developed in the offense and defense analyses, it matched enemy 
offense and defense against our own offense and defense in 
potential attacks designed specifically to destroy an inadequately 
defended offense. The results were a shock. The authors knew 
the results in a preliminary way by the start of 1952 but spent the 
following fifteen months systematically checking and testing the 
conclusions, as well as refining them and designing improvements. 
When I briefed the results internally to the Rand Management 
Committee at the end of 1953, even though there had been quite 
a few rumors and preliminary indications, the shock was quite as 
great. Though the results seem painfully obvious now and were 
overwhelmingly evidenced then, the fact that the study caused 
this shock suggests how completely the prior strategic focus 
and assumptions had precluded an understanding of how hard 
it was to design a strategic force capable of surviving a nuclear 
attack directed at its destruction. For the same reason, the results 
of the study had to be briefed over 90 times to the military and 
particularly to audiences of specialists in related plans and 

There are a few observations worth making. First, these studies 
deliberately understated the vulnerability of the programmed 
systems. R-244S and R-266^* showed the deadly results of attacks 
using as few as 30 bombs of 40-kiloton yield, at a time when 
intelligence estimated that the Russians would have 400 bombs, 
many in the megaton range. Against the programmed system it 
employed mostly medium-range Russian piston-engine bombers, 
the TU-4, modeled on our own B-29 and B-50. These were times 


when intelligence, moreover, was underestimating the Russians. 
(After Sputnik, intelligence frequently went to the opposite pole; 
but before that it underestimated how rapidly the Russians would 
get the A-bomb, jet-fighters, the H-bomb, long-range turbo jet and 
turbo-prop bombers, and how rapidly they would expand their 
stockpile of weapons.) The conservatism is also illustrated by 
comparing the forces presumed by the Base Study for 1956 with 
those actually revealed by intelligence in 1956 to be operational. 
This comparison can be made by examining R-290's section on 
"current vulnerability" (that is, 1956 vulnerability).^^ It can also 
be shown by comparing the 1961 capabilities presumed in R-290 
with the capabilities which were public knowledge by 1961. For 
example, the best accuracy assumed in R-290 to be available to the 
Russians for attacking the programmed strategic force in 1961 was 
2 nautical miles (see p. 27). But President Eisenhower revealed 
before 1961 that the Russians and we had achieved accuracies of 
1 mile. This makes quite a difference. The number of weapons 
needed to destroy a target varies essentially as the square of the 
median miss-distance. This means roughly that when circular 
error probable, or CEP (that is, median miss-distance), is halved, 
the salvo needed for destruction is divided by four. The curve on 
p. 27 with this adjustment looks even worse. But R-290 showed 
that it was feasible to destroy the force programmed for 1961 
using only manned aircraft. The results in no way depended on a 
"missile gap." The entire method of both studies, however, was 
to show that even with the most favorable assumptions for our 
side, the situation was extremely bad. We therefore omitted in the 
printed version and for large audiences some even more extreme 

Third, we studied attacks on all nuclear forces capable of 
retaliation, including carrier task forces. (See pp. llff and 30ff of 

Fourth, the data and the reasoning of the study were subjected 
to intensive review by experienced military officers, who were 
by no means eager to accept these painful conclusions. This was 
done not only in the course of the long series of briefings for 
the specialists but during months of examination by an ad hoc 
committee of the Air Staff which included as members officers 
from Plans, Logistics, Operations, and other parts of the Air Force. 
Even if we had been able to guess a -priori the results of the study, 
we would never have been able to persuade any substantial 
number of military men whose a priori guesses had been quite the 


But finally an examination of the Base Study, and of the study 
that followed it after another three years of work, should make 
clear that a priori reasoning on these matters could hardly hope to 
yield convincing conclusions. 

When I suggest that a systems analysis was necessary, I 
am referring not so much to the sort of training in a specific 
traditional discipline that was required; I refer rather to a kind 
of activity or function. The systems analysts in studying the 
potential interactions of military forces to aid military decision, 
used extensive data on peacetime operations and logistics, data 
on the actual geographical and temporal distribution of forces 
and equipment, and data derived from state-of-the-art studies 
and theoretical analyses of equipment design, including data 
both for ourselves and for our adversary. Some first-class systems 
analysts, like Jim Digby and Ed Barlow, were electronic engineers; 
or like Robert Lutz, a co-author of the Base Study, an aeronautical 
engineer; like Bruno Augenstein, a physicist. Some were 
mathematicians, like Ed Quade, or mathematical statisticians, 
like Andy Marshall, or mathematical logicians, like myself and 
Norman Dalkey. Some had training in more than one discipline; 
Marshall and I had worked in economics, Marshall also had done 
work in physics, and I in industrial engineering. Harry Rowen 
was trained in engineering and economics. Or, like Fred Hoffman, 
they were trained mainly in economics. Economists played a key 
role. But at least one sociologist-demographer, Fred Ikle, did a 
partial systems analysis of great importance on the problem of 
reducing the chance of nuclear accidents and unauthorized acts. 
Bill Kaufmann, so far as I know, is the only political scientist with 
traditional training who undertook and successfully executed a 
concrete analysis of the potential operations of actual military 
systems, and he did this around 1960. It is not strictly correct to 
contrast systems analysts with physicists or social scientists or 
engineers. Some of each of these have been systems analysts.^*" 

What these men had in common is that they were dealing 
with actual operational, design, and plans data. They were not 
basing evaluations on simple models and a priori guesses as to 
the performance of the interacting strategic offense and defense 
of both sides. 

This line of attack stemmed from operational research 
during World War II. Pat Blackett deserves an honored place as 
progenitor of this method in his work during World War II, along 
with Harold Larnder and several others in the United Kingdom 
and in the United States. ^^ He used methods that later were greatly 


extended for the more complex military decisions on equipment 
and operations in the postwar period, when many more variables 
were open. 

Blackett, in a well-known paper on operational research^* 
written during World War II, gave some illustrations of why it 
was absurd to hope to reach reasonable conclusions on the typical 
problems of potential interactions among military forces unless 
one had access to operational data — data, he was constrained to 
point out, that even physicists working on secret research and 
development problems normally could not and did not have. He 
considered the case of the anti-U-boat operations by aircraft. "The 
yield of the operations . . . will depend at least on the following 
variables: U-boats — number operating, tactics, defensive strength, 
offensive armament, geographical distribution, state of training 
and morale of crews, efficiency of look-outs; Aircraft — number and 
duration of sorties, search tactics, height of patrol, attack tactics, 
bomb load, accuracy of bombing, geographical and temporal 
distribution, performance, camouflage of aircraft, performance of 
radar, site of training and fatigue of crews; Weather Conditions — 
state of the sea, cloud height and amount, visibility." He concluded: 
"To attempt an a priori solution of this problem is clearly absurd." 
One needs data. 

But it is even more plainly absurd to suppose that one can 
determine a priori whether the American strategic force in the 
mid-1950s, say, was vulnerable to attack by a Russian strategic 
nuclear force, or whether the strategic force planned for the 1960s 
was likely to be easily destroyed. The absurdity is plainer because 
there are many more variables involved in a systems analysis 
of the problem of nuclear retaliation than the twenty-one listed 
by Blackett for the anti-U-boat operation. And, in fact, some of 
the individual components of the second-strike problem are of an 
order of complexity like that of the anti-U-boat case. 

The point that Blackett made about the need for classified 
operational data for wartime operational research can easily be 
misunderstood, as can my similar point about the design and 
analysis of complex opposed systems in the postwar period. It 
might be taken as a sort of obscurantism, a suggestion that the 
people with "inside dope," and only such dopesters, have sound 
conclusions about the critical, potential interactions of military 
forces in the period under discussion. However, that is not his 
meaning; nor is it mine. 


First, one can have access to secret "inside information" and 
make no use of it — or make very poor use of it. Just as a library 
card or other access to the Bibliotheque Nationale, the British 
Museum, and the Library of Congress does not automatically 
assure that its holder has made a study of the historical documents 
they contain, or, if he has, that he has done it competently and 
written an able history; so a clearance providing access to secret 
operational as well as design data is very far from assuring that 
its holder has used such data in a competent, serious analysis. In 
fact, the frequent assurances by an electronics engineer such as 
Jerry Wiesner or a physicist such as Herbert York in October 1964 
that no important technological changes were likely to affect the 
strategic offense or the strategic defense demonstrate that even 
design and development data, not to say operational complexities, 
may be ignored by people with access, especially when they have 
an ideological axe to grind. ^' 

They said this when it was already clear that multiple, 
independently aimed reentry vehicles and increased precision 
could work revolutionary changes in the offense, and that phased 
array radars, advances in the computer art, and new weapons 
effects that greatly increased the lethal volume of defense 
warheads, could revolutionize active defense against ICBMs. 
Moreover, these changes did not simply cancel each other, they 
affected the relations between large, sophisticated and small, 
less-advanced nuclear forces. Even more than such failures to use 
access to development data to anticipate technological changes, 
there are failures to analyze the strategic military consequences 
of such technological changes — even when participants in the 
strategic debate have, so to speak, their "library card," that is, 
could get access to the data but do not go through the laborious 
analysis required. To me, it has been simply appalling how much 
of the debate proceeds in terms of the scholastic absurdities of a 
priori models, whether the debaters have access or do not. Among 
those who do not have access, Blackett has the smallest excuse 
for such a priori reasoning since, when not consumed by political 
passions, he knows better. 

Second, the point against simple a priori models that pretend 
to cover interactions involving several dozen variables can be 
made in another, somewhat more explicit, way. No conclusion 
at all is possible except by picking values for the many variables 
involved. One has to determine the range, the speed, the altitude, 
the radar cross-section of the offense vehicles, their precision in 


navigation and bomb delivery, the yield of the weapons, and 
many other matters on the offense side; and one must determine 
the location in space and time of the vehicles under attack, their 
degree of readiness, protection against blast and other weapons 
effects, etc. If one determines these values arbitrarily, one can get 
any conclusion desired. It will depend simply on the arbitrary 
choice. If one determines it by rumor — the rumor that the B-47s 
used three or four hundred bases (see Raymond Aron, Paix et 
Guerre)/° or the rumor that one-third of SAC was armed, combat 
ready, and in the air at all times (see Patterson and Furniss, NATO, 
A Critical Appraisal), '^^ or, even more farfetched, that there was, in 
the 1950s, a continuous air-alert of short-range fighter bombers, as 
Blackett suggests — then one can emerge only with a conclusion as 
valid as the rumors themselves.*^ All these and many other rumors, 
however, were quite false. One must agree with Blackett' s original 
position that it is hopelessly absurd to judge the outcomes of such 
complex interactions without access to actual operational data, 
plans, and deployments. Such access is a necessary, though not 
a sufficient, condition for concrete judgments about the stability 
of nuclear deterrence at any particular time. There seems to me 
to be a very grave lack of understanding of this point today in 
the European and British discussions of strategy, not to say the 
American ones. 

I do not by any means reject the importance of the more 
philosophical and conceptual analyses of strategy, but they are 
severely limited by a lack of empirical concreteness as to what they 
can say about the actual relations among opposing military forces 
in any given historical period. I am sure that as a historian, you find 
no difficulty in distinguishing essays on the philosophy of history 
by Isaiah Berlin or E. H. Carr or M. G. White, however valuable, 
from concrete historical studies such as your monumental work 
on the Franco-Prussian war, or Carr's history of Russia.*^ 

I would distinguish my own essays on matters of principle 
and basic concepts, such as "The Delicate Balance of Terror"** — 
which was not about the vulnerability of strategic forces in 1958 — 
from the detailed, empirical studies, consuming years for their 
completion, of the operations of deterrence in the 1950s, or the 
operations of deterrence in the late 1950s and the 1960s. 

I say this even though the concepts elaborated in my own 
public essays were developed for the most part as working 
tools — e.g., the second-strike concept, the idea of deterrence as 
a matter of comparative risks, and the recognition that a stable 


deterrence was feasible, but hard, and that its stability was subject 
to technological upset. When "The Delicate Balance..." stated 

it is not fruitful to talk about the likelihood of general 
war without specifying the range of alternatives that are 
pressing on the aggressor and the strategic postures of 
both the Soviet bloc and the West. Deterrence is a matter 
of comparative risks. The balance is not automatic. First, 
since thermonuclear weapons give an enormous advan- 
tage to the aggressor, it takes great ingenuity and real- 
ism at any given level of nuclear technology to devise a 
stable equilibrium. And, second, this technology itself is 
changing with fantastic speed. Deterrence will require 
an urgent and continuing effort.*' 

It reflected a concrete judgment made earlier in R-290, pp. 40-41: 

The attacks described here, and many others studied, 
clearly indicate the present vulnerability of our strike 
force. They do not, of course, imply that a Russian at- 
tack is imminent. Nor do we think it is. That is a mat- 
ter of Soviet intention rather than Soviet capability, and 
such intent would be affected in the first instance by So- 
viet knowledge of our vulnerability and in the second 
instance by the comparative gains and risks of alterna- 
tives to central war. Nonetheless it is a painful fact that 
the risks to the Soviets of attempting a surprise attack 
on the United States are much lower than are generally 
estimated. We would like this course of Soviet action to 
be a worse alternative to almost any other they might 
contemplate — including, for example, the acceptance of 
defeat in some limited or peripheral war. But the sober 
and careful scrutiny of the present vulnerability of our 
strike force to feasible Russian attacks, and realistic tests 
of the plans for its future defense, show the seriousness 
of the problem. 

And the reference to the possibility of technological upset was 
not hypothetical. It was based on the fact that by the time the 
Base Study was finished and some, though not all, of its principal 
recommendations were accepted, I knew that it had no more than 


seven years or so to run. In the 1960s, vehicles traveUng 4 miles per 
second would make warning and alert measures inadequate. Fred 
Hoffman and I wrote "Defending A Strategic Force after 1960" 
(0-2270)** and put it out on February 1, 1954, as the first rough 
cut at the problem of protecting SAC in the ballistic missile era. 
It was the precursor of R-290, which was not issued for two and 
a half years, but this precursor of the second study showing the 
technological limits of the first study was put out before the final 
report of the first study was issued in April. Moreover, it proposed 
the system of hardening adopted for the 1960s, but foresaw that 
hardening would be enough for only a finite time — that in the 
1970s precision was likely to have increased enough to make it 
inadequate even though still useful. (Today an ABM defense of 
hardened ballistic missiles seems a very likely way of maintaining 
stability of the deterrent in the 1970s, but that can be accepted or 
rejected only on the basis of a detailed system analysis.) 

It is conceivable that these particular concepts might have been 
arrived at a priori but I'm rather skeptical. In any case, it should be 
plain from the history I have tried to document why the discovery 
of the vulnerability of SAC, the development of the first-strike/ 
second-strike distinction, and the recognition of the feasible but 
limited and difficult stability of deterrence, owe substantially 
nothing to the strategic writings of the natural and social scientists. 
I was not familiar with these writings, and if I had been they could 
hardly have led me to make the conclusions that emerged from 
empirical study. I am afraid that your footnote 41, p. 15, and your 
paragraph beginning "Not until thermonuclear weapons . . ." 
on p. 6 are misleading.*^ The work at Rand that you refer to did 
not study the implications of Brodie's ideas. The work was quite 
unconscious of these early ideas of Brodie and Viner. Moreover, 
the study came to precisely the opposite conclusions from those 
implied by Viner and Brodie. The timing and direction of influence 
suggested in your footnote 41 and your p. 15 seem then in error. 
The analysis of the vulnerability of strategic forces was clear to the 
authors of the Base Study by the beginning of 1952, and the first 
summary printed report (R-244-S) was formally presented to the 
Air Force on March 1, 1953. Morgenstern, Schelling, and Brodie 
all had read, as consultants or staff members of Rand, some or 
all of the sequence of papers and reports on the subject.** This 
is by no means to minimize the great importance of Schelling' s 
keen analysis of the relations of the problems of surprise attack, 
deterrence, and disarmament. His essay was an illuminating 


example of the sorts of basic clarification that can proceed without 
new empirical effort on the foundation of intuition, common 
sense, and previous empirical work. But the discovery of the 
vulnerabilities of strategic forces owes its primary debt to the 
tradition of operational research and empirical systems analysis. 
Hence, the acknowledgments at the beginning of the Base Study 
to J. F. Digby, E. J. Barlow, E. S. Quade, P. M. Dadant, E. Reich, et 
al.^'^ Because their contributions to strategy have been classified, 
they are largely unknown. This is true even of the important 
contributions of men like Fred Hoffman and Harry Rowen which 
are a little better known.^" They are largely unsung heroes of 
strategy in the nuclear age. 

I must apologize for the extreme length of this "letter." And 
for the corresponding length of time it has taken me to get it off. It 
is focused on one central problem, that of the stability of nuclear 
deterrence. Your paper quite rightly deals with many other 
problems besides this one. I hope, however, the material I have 
drawn from my lectures on this one subject will be useful. 

ENDNOTES - Wohlstetter - On the Genesis of Nuclear 

Note: Unbracketed endnotes are Wohlstetter' s. Endnotes in square 
brackets were added in by April 1986 by James Digby and Arthur 
Steiner. Endnotes in double-square brackets were added in 2008 by 
Robert Zarate. 

1. [These collections are now in the Joseph Regenstein Library 
at the University of Chicago, the Historian's office of the U.S. 
Department of Energy, and the U.S. National Archives.] 

2. [In the Adelphi Paper version this becomes pp. 19ff.] [[See 
Michael Howard, "The Classical Strategists," Adelphi Paper No. 
54, London, UK: Institute for Strategic Studies, 1969; and "The 
Classical Strategists," in Howard, ed.. Studies in Peace and War, 
New York, NY: The Viking Press, 1971, pp. 154-183.]] 

3. [P. M. S. Blackett, British Nobel Laureate physicist, 
pioneer in operational research, was author of Fear, War, and the 
Bomb, published in the United States by McGraw-Hill in 1949. 
Vannevar Bush, electrical engineer, was head of the Organization 
for Scientific Research and Development during World War II, 
making him, in effect, the nation's chief scientist for the war effort. 


He wrote Modern Arms and Free Men, published by Simon and 
Schuster in 1949.] 

4. [Refers to Jacob Viner, Chicago economist and specialist in 
international trade; Bernard Brodie, political scientist at Yale, 1945- 
51, and later at Rand; and William T. R. Fox, political scientist and 
associate of Brodie at Yale in the late 1940s, later at Columbia.] 

5. [The title of a book edited by Dexter Masters and Katharine 
Way, One World or None, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1946.] 

6. These documents are in the Atomic Energy Commission 
collection. See p. 329 of the Hewlett and Anderson official history. 
[Richard Hewlett and Oscar Anderson, The New World: Vol. 1 of 
a History of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, University Park: 
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962. One of the three similar 
memoranda of that date, signed by Bush and James Conant, was 
published as an appendix to Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed, 
New York: Knopf, 1975. The three original memoranda can now 
be found in the National Archives.] 

7. [Adelphi version, p. 21. See editors' preface, above, for a 
note on how this was changed by Howard.] 

8. [All signers of the Jeffries report were senior scientists at the 
Metallurgical Laboratory, University of Chicago. For background 
on the "Prospectus on Nucleonics," see Hewlett and Anderson, 
op.cit., pp. 324-325, and Alice Kimball Smith, A Peril and a Hope, 
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. 19-24 and 539- 
559. Most of the text is reprinted in Smith, ibid.; the full text is in 
the National Archives.] 

9. [Here Wohlstetter was referring to unpublished writings 
that are still not generally available.] 

10. [The Franck Report, a report to the Secretary of War, 
is reprinted as an appendix in Smith, op.cit., pp. 560-572. For 
background, see ibid., pp. 41-52, and Arthur Steiner, "Baptism of 
the Atomic Scientists," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 
1975, pp. 21-28.] 


11. "Atomic Weapons," paper presented at a Symposium of 
the American Philosophical Society on Atomic Energy and Its 
Implications, Philadelphia, November 1945. [See Proceedings of the 
American Philosophical Society, Vol. 90, No. 1, January 29, 1946, The 
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1946.] 

12. [Quoted in] Hewlett and Anderson, p. 358. [The Interim 
Committee was set up by Secretary of War Stimson in May 1945 
to advise him on atomic energy policy. Its scientific panel was 
composed of Oppenheimer, Fermi, Lawrence, and Arthur H. 
Compton. The minutes of the meeting that included the Scientific 
Panel have been published as an appendix in Sherwin, op.cit. The 
original is in the National Archives.] 

13. [The quoted passage is from Atomic Energy, Hearings on S. 
Res. 179, Special Committee on Atomic Energy, U.S. Senate, 79th 
Congress, First Session, Part I, U.S. Government Printing Office, 

14. Sometimes 4 [square] miles was estimated for total 
destruction. [The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey report. The Effects 
of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and 'Nagasaki, U.S. Government 
Printing Office, 1946, pp. 3 and 30, cites "4.4 sq mi which were 
almost completely burned out" at Hiroshima and 9.9 sq mi as 
the area within which wood frame buildings were damaged at 

15. [Wigner was a Manhattan Project physicist, later a Nobel 

16. [Albert Wohlstetter, Henry S. Rowen, Robert Lutz, and 
Fred Hoffman, Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases, Rand Report 
R-266, 1954 (declassified in 1962). Publicly released in 1985, a 
number of copies have been in scholarly hands for some time; 
for a description of its methodology, see E. S. Quade, Analysis for 
Military Decisions, Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966, Chap. 3, pp. 24- 
63. See also Bruce L. R. Smith, The RAND Corporation, Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard University Press, 1966, Chapt. VI.] 

17. At the same symposium that included Oppenheimer's 
paper on "Atomic Weapons," and also a short, less explicit 
version by Langmuir of his four-stage atomic arms race. ["The 
Implications of the Atomic Bomb for International Relations," 


Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 90, No. 
1, January 1946. Viner's paper is also available in his International 
Economics, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1951, pp. 300-309.] 

18. Not that it was unanticipated. The University of Chicago 
scientists had met on September 20, 1945, and concluded that 
"The atomic bomb makes surprise an unimportant element of 
warfare. Retaliation in equal terms is unavoidable, and in this 
sense the atomic bomb is a war deterrent, a peace-making force" 
(Box 28, Folder 25, Harper Collection). Viner, however, unlike the 
physicists, noticed the inconsistency with some of the principal 
themes these same physicists were advancing at the time. [Viner 
attended the conference and read an early version of his paper. The 
Harper Collection is now in the Regenstein Library, University of 

19. [Gallois retired from the French air force and became an 
advocate of a French nuclear capability. For a summary of his 
early views, see Howard's Adelphi version, p. 29.] 

20. [Bernard Brodie,ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and 
World Order, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1946. Brodie contributed 
Chaps. I and II, pp. 21-107.] 

21. [See Masters and Way, op.cit., pp. 26-32.] 

22. [See Norman Cousins's editorial in The Saturday Review of 
Literature, August 18, 1945, pp. 5-9. Cousins's editorial preceded 
the scientists' public statements.] 

23. [I.I. Rabi, Nobel Laureate physicist, was a consultant to the 
Manhattan Project and a member of many governmental advisory 
committees after World War II. ] 

24. East River and Lincoln came at the start of the 1950s and 
were accompanied and followed by a great flurry of concern in 
the universities and in the intellectual community about urban 
defense. It was reflected in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
and in the liberal and popular magazines and newspapers at 
the time, and it culminated in the disasters of the Oppenheimer 
Hearings. [U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In the Matter of J. 
Robert Oppenheimer, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. See index 


for many references to Lincoln, East River, and Vista.] [[Digby 
and Steiner's index is not included in this edited volume.]] Your 
statement, p. 14, about the timing of the public concern is almost 
the reverse of what actually happened. Sputnik occurred near the 
end of the campaign for civil defense by the MIT, Harvard, Cal 
Tech, and etc., faculty members, who then switched back to the 
notion that there was no defense and that defense indeed might 
be destabilizing. Teller and others tended to change places with 
their physicist opponents in a kind of minuet. But they never 
commanded the support of the intellectual community that 
Oppenheimer, Bethe, Rabi, Rabinowitch, et al., had. [The reference 
to p. 14 was to material on p. 26, Adelphi version.] 

25. Statement of Eugene Tatom, Commander, U.S. Navy. The 
'National Defense Program-Unification and Strategy, Hearings before 
the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, 81st 
Congress, First Session, October 1949, U.S. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, 1949, p. 170. Compare Blackett, a Navy 
opponent of strategic bombing, in 1948: "The power of human 
beings to 'stick it' is immense; a determined folk will learn to stand 
atomic bombardment, if that is their fate, just as Germans learnt 
to stand ordinary bombing on a scale up to fifty times larger than 
that which the enthusiasts for strategic bombing thought would 
bring about the collapse of their war effort." [Military and Political 
Consequences of Atomic Energy, London, 1948, p. 56.) Blackett, of 
course, was also then a supporter of the Soviet position on atomic 
energy at the United Nations. 

26. [General Curtis E. LeMay, former Commander-in-Chief, 
Strategic Air Command and Chief of Staff of the Air Force during 
the early 1960s. LeMay was noted for his enthusiastic advocacy of 
long-range strategic bombers.] 

27. [In recent years, several secondary sources have explored 
the declassified original documents. See David Alan Rosenberg, 
"The Origins of Overkill," International Security, Spring 1983, Vol. 
7, No. 4, pp. 3-71. See also Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. A complete annotated war 
plan of the late 1940s can be found in Anthony Cave Brown, 
DROPSHOT, New York: Dial Press/James Wade, 1978.] 


28. [For example, in "Summary Evaluation of the Net 
Capability of the U.S.S.R. to Inflict Direct Injury on the United 
States up to July 1, 1955," NSC140/1 (May 1953), it is assumed that 
a mid-1955 attack by the Soviets would allocate 80 atomic weapons 
against the U.S. atomic air defensive capability worldwide, 151 
against urban industrial targets, and hold 60 in reserve. Printed 
in U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 
1952-1954, Vol. II, part 1, Washington, U.S. Government Printing 
Office, 1984, pp. 328-349.)] 

29. [For example, JCS 1924/76, October 30, 1953, in the 
National Archives, assumed a Soviet attack with 700 aircraft at 
the end of 1957.] 

30. [The page numbers refer to the version included in E.S. 
Quade, ed.. Analysis for Military Decisions, Chicago: Rand McNally 
and Company, 1964.] 

31. [Edward J. Barlow and James F. Digby, eds.. Air Defense 
Study, Report R-227, The Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, 
October 15, 1951; Edward J. Barlow, Active Defense of the United 
States 1954-1960, R-250 (Abridged), December 1, 1953. R-227 is not 
yet publicly released.] 

32. [According to the Rand Publications Department, R-208 is 
not yet publicly released. Edward Quade was a mathematician, 
Richard Schamberg an aeronautical engineer, and Robert Specht 
a mathematician at Rand.] 

33. [See R-266, op.cit.] 

34. [R-244-S is not yet generally available. It reported in 
summary form the conclusions of Wohlstetter's team. For a 
discussion, see Bruce L.R. Smith, op.cit., pp. 218-219. R-266, 
previously cited, was a more comprehensive report.] 

35. [Albert Wohlstetter, Fred Hoffman, and H.S. Rowen, 
Protecting U.S. Power To Strike Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Rand 
Report R-290, The Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, 1956. This 
report is not yet generally available.] 


36. [All of the people referred to in this paragraph were 
colleagues of Wohlstetter at Rand during much of the 1950s.] 

37. [Harold Larnder was an English scientist who had worked 
on Britain's early radars before immigrating to Canada after World 
War II. He saw much of Rand analysts during the development 
of the North American Air Defense Command. Wohlstetter held 
him in especially high regard.] 

38. [Patrick M. S. Blackett, "Operational Research," The 
Advancement of Science, Vol. V, No. 17, April 1948; reprinted in 
Blackett, Studies of War, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1962, p. 188.] 

39. [Jerome B. Wiesner and Herbert F. York, "National Security 
and the Nuclear Test Ban," Scientific American, October 1964, pp. 

40. [Raymond Aron, Peace and War, trans, by Richard Howard 
and Annette Baker Fox, New York: Praeger, 1967, p. 422.] 

41. [Gardner Patterson and Edgard S. Furniss, Jr., "NATO, a 
Critical Appraisal," Princeton University Conference on NATO, 
Princeton, June 1957, p. 32 (cited in "The Delicate Balance of 
Terror," op. cit., p. 218).] 

42. [Others may not interpret Blackett' s words in quite the 
same way. Cf. Blackett, Studies, p. 133.] 

43. [E. H. Carr was a British diplomat turned historian; Berlin 
is a British, and White an American, philosopher.] 

44. [Op. cit., pp. 211-234.] 

45. [Op. cit., p. 222.] 

46. [This internal Rand document has not been formally 
released, but copies have been in the hands of some scholars. It 
is cited, for example, in Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 
pp. 118-119. Wohlstetter himself quoted from this document in 
his testimony favoring the proposed "Safeguard" anti-ballistic 
missiles system. Today he continues to believe that stability would 
be enhanced by active defenses, and therefore supported proposals 


for active anti-missile defenses. (See U.S. Senate, Committee on 
Armed Services, Hearings, Authorization for Military Procurement 
Research, Fiscal Year 1971 and Reserve Strength, Ninety-First 
Congress, Second Session, Part 3, May 19, 1970, pp. 2249-2250.) 
Herbert York, an opponent of Wohlstetter on the ABM issue, 
referred to D-2270 as "This remarkably prescient study" in Race to 
Oblivion, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970, p. 183.] 

47. [See pages 27 and 21, respectively, of the Adelphi version. 
Howard made no change in footnote 41. The paragraph on old 
page 6 was slightly changed to read "... the full implications 
and requirements of his ideas, and others current in the United 
States' academic community were to be exhaustively studied." (The 
italicized phrase was added in the Adelphi version.) In footnote 
11, Howard added the sentence (referring to Brodie), "He did not, 
however, deal with the problem of vulnerability of retaliatory 
forces and the consequent dependence of stability on an effective 
second-strike capability."] 

48. [Oskar Morgenstern was an economist at Princeton and a 
Rand consultant; Thomas Schelling, a Harvard economist, spent 
a year at Rand in 1959-1960. This led to his important book The 
Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 

49. [Digby, Barlow, and Dadant were engineers at Rand who 
worked on air defense analyses in the early 1950s; Quade and 
Reich were mathematicians.] 

50. [Hoffman and Rowen, both economists, were and are 
Wohlstetter's long-time collaborators.] 




Commentary: Timely Warnings Still— 
The Wohlstetters and Nuclear Proliferation 

Henry Sokolski 

Strike up a serious discussion in Washington regarding the 
spread of nuclear weapons, and there's a good chance the works 
of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter will be invoked to add an air of 
authority to whatever is being said. Those citing the Wohlstetter's 
works, however, do so as if Albert and Roberta were only of 
historical interest.^ 

Certainly, the Wohlstetters understood far better than most 
officials do today how the spread of nuclear weapons, even to 
friendly states, could undermine our security and international 
stability. That's why they detailed the security risk of the United 
States and other states supplying dangerous nuclear technologies 
and materials for civilian purposes under loose safeguards. They 
also understood the inherent dangers of additional states making 
nuclear fuels or using nuclear weapons-usable fuels, and how 
inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 
could provide little warning of diversions of these materials and 
activities to bomb-making. 

For these reasons and others besides, they objected to 
interpreting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as if 
it recognized the per se right of signatories to make or stockpile 
nuclear weapons-usable fuels. Here, they were attentive to the 
notion, heralded in the NPT, that it was the "benefits" of peaceful 
nuclear energy that were to be promoted, not money-losing, 
dangerous activities that brought states to the brink of acquiring 
bombs. That's why they made such painstaking efforts to clarify 
which nuclear activities and fuels were economical and safe, and 
which ones were not. 

Finally, although the Wohlstetters were skeptical of arms 
control and nonproliferation schemes that thought "minimum 
deterrent" nuclear stockpiles were justifiable for states to threaten 
each others' cities with, they were open to sounder arms control 
proposals. Here, they felt more comfortable promoting restraints 
that focused on economics and approaches that might increase 
the number of states that could veto the access of nations to 
dangerous materials and activities rather than elaborate civilian 
nuclear supply "grand bargains" whose success depended on 
unverifiable "peaceful" end-use pledges. 


The analyses and key conclusions of the Wohlstetters are 
still timely today. A brief review of their key works on nuclear 
proliferation clarifies why. 

N + 1 Problems. 

Since 9/11, it's been fashionable to see U.S. nonproliferation 
efforts as turning upon the distinction between friends and 
adversaries. The United States should worry about hostile states 
like Iran getting nuclear arms, it is argued, but support the nuclear 
activities of possible friends, such as India. It makes sense to help 
our Middle Eastern friends to develop "peaceful" nuclear energy, 
but there is a problem with North Korea or Syria doing so. 

This line of reasoning is plausible. The Wohlstetters certainly 
were no friends of Communist North Korea or revolutionary Iran. 
But to an extent rarely expressed in Washington today, they also 
worried about friendly countries acquiring nuclear weapons. 
As Albert made clear in "Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N+1 
Problem" (1961), alliance members that try to acquire nuclear 
weapons, even with U.S. help, can significantly reduce alliance 
cohesion and defense capabilities against first-tier competitors 
(such as Russia and China today) or even second-tier competitors 
(such as a possible nuclear-armed Iran). In his view, it was a major 
mistake for the prospective or newly nuclear-armed state and its 
friends to view proliferation as being a problem limited to the next 
country that acquired nuclear weapons after them (that is, the "N 
+ 1" problem country). Instead, in Albert's view, alliance and 
security headaches arose from the prospective or newly nuclear- 
armed state (or the "Nth" problem country) itself. 

The Wohlstetters certainly were much more skeptical than 
most officials and academics, then and today, of the ability 
of smaller states — France in the 1960s, India in the 1970s, and 
beyond — to make their nuclear forces any more than net liabilities 
to a security alliance relationship. As Albert noted in Strength, 
Interest and New Technologies (1968), Russia needed to dedicate only 
a small percentage of its strategic offensive and defensive forces to 
neutralize France's entire /orce defrappe. Moreover, France would 
constantly be pressed financially and technologically to make its 
nuclear forces even minimally credible without simultaneously 
drawing down critical conventional force capabilities: 

A small nuclear force ... is hardly likely to make any 
country that has it the equal of any other in deterring at- 


tack on itself. And the technological defects of small nu- 
clear forces limit their potential for protecting their pos- 
sessors indirectly by triggering one major power against 
the other. However, even if these defects did not obtain 
and any country with nuclear weapons could thereby 
get direct or indirect protection for itself, there would 
still remain the need to protect non-nuclear countries 
from nuclear coercion. And giving bombs to everybody 
hardly seems the way to do it.^ 

These points should raise more than a few questions for U.S. 
and allied policymakers today. Just how much of a headache 
might India and Israel create for the achievement of U.S. and 
allied security goals because of their nuclear forces?^ What 
assistance might each demand of the United States to maintain 
their force's survivability and effectiveness against improved 
Chinese and Pakistani forces and, in Israel's case, against its 
neighbors with nuclear ambitions? Might Israel ask the United 
States for intelligence or other help in bombing future threatening 
"peaceful" nuclear sites in Iran, Syria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia? 
How critical might the American role be in keeping the peace 
between New Delhi and Islamabad? Failing this, how automatic 
might deterrence between India and Pakistan be? What advanced 
offensive and defensive strategic weapons technologies might 
India or Israel ask the United States to share in order to assure 
these countries' nuclear strategic freedom of action? How much 
assistance will the United States be asked to lend to the respective 
conventional forces of India, Israel, and Pakistan as each of these 
countries tries to cope with the constant technical and financial 
demands of keeping their strategic deterrents credible against key 

This, then, brings one to questions touching on U.S. foreign 
policy. How might attending to these demands detract from other 
U.S. -allied security objectives? Will India or Israel ever be able to 
keep their nuclear forces sufficiently survivable or effective to suit 
their own views of what is required for their national security? 
How might trying to fulfill their requests for strategic assistance 
(or failing to do so) affect Washington's ability to shore up allied 
counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and state-building efforts 
in Iraq or Afghanistan, or America's need to maintain sound 
relations with Pakistan in the war on terror? Given the questions 
with these states, how eager should the United States be to humor 


or support the military nuclear musings of Australia, Brazil, 
Turkey, Ukraine, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea, or 
Taiwan? What headaches for U.S. security might these nations' 
efforts to go nuclear pose? Should we simply assume that these 
nations will go nuclear no matter what we do, or should we 
instead try to discourage them by offering — or strengthening 
existing — security arrangements? 

Safe or Dangerous? 

The next set of issues that the Wohlstetters' nuclear studies 
highlighted is the imprudence of nuclear-supplier states spreading 
dangerous civilian nuclear technology under loose safeguards. 
Here, the Wohlstetters were the first to seriously analyze and ques- 
tion the nonproliferation merits of the Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Treaty, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Statute, and 
the IAEA's nuclear materials accountancy system.* None of these 
nonproliferation^ measures, the Wohlstetters concluded, would 
do anything but spread the means to make bombs unless they did 
a much clearer job of defining what is — and is not— "peaceful," 
"beneficial," and "safe guar dable." 

The Wohlstetters certainly were clear about the dangers of 
allowing for the transfer of nuclear weapons-usable fuels and 
nuclear fuel-making plants to states that did not have nuclear 
weapons. They also were firm in their opposition to moving toward 
commercial use of plutonium-based fuels, even if such fuels were 
"lightly" irradiated to reduce partially their usability in weapons. 
Today, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) proposes 
to share virtually identical plutonium-based fuels. Such fuels, it 
is claimed, can be made sufficiently "proliferation resistant." But 
how likely is this? Already, the backers of GNEP promise only 
to make fuels that might be difficult for terrorist organizations 
to divert for bomb-making. GNEP fuel recycling, they concede, 
would be risky to share with other states that do not already make 
their own nuclear fuels because it might allow them to break out 
and make bombs quickly.* 

Then, there is the whole question of the ability of IAEA 
safeguards to keep track of such fuel and fuel-making activities 
in order to warn against possible military diversions in a timely 
manner. The Wohlstetters were particularly wary of attempts 
to use Article IV of the NPT to justify the further spread of 
plutonium-based fuels, centrifuge plant technologies for uranium 


enrichment, and reprocessing. It was fashionable in the 1970s, as 
it is again today, to insist that the NPT recognizes that all states 
have a per se right to any and all declared and inspected nuclear 
technologies and materials so long as they have some conceivable 
civilian application. Yet, as the Wohlstetters detailed in, "Signals, 
Noise, and Article IV" (1979), for historical, technical, economic, 
and legal reasons, asserting such a per se right is both dangerous 
and untenable. 

One reason why is the clear limit of protection that inter- 
national inspections can afford against the diversion of civilian 
nuclear programs to military uses. No inspections system, the 
Wohlstetters noted, could possibly afford timely warning of 
military diversions from fuel fabrication and production plants 
where materials directly usable to make bombs were being 
generated or handled. These facilities, and materials in them, 
literally could bring states within days — or hours — of acquiring 
nuclear weapons. Again, the only safe locations for such plants or 
materials, the Wohlstetters noted, locations in states that already 
had nuclear weapons. 

Unfortunately, this point — which the Wohlstetters amplified 
in "Spreading the Bomb without Quite Breaking the Rules" (1976), 
Swords from Plowshares (1979), Towards a New Consensus (1979), 
and many other works — has yet to sink in. President Bush, for 
example, proposes to make nuclear fuel accessible at "reasonable 
prices" to any states that do not now make nuclear fuel as a way 
of discouraging them from making their own nuclear fuel. Both 
the State Department and former Senator Sam Nunn, chairman 
of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, back such fuel offers, along with 
power reactor assistance in general. They warn, however, that we 
will fail to get states to use such fuel services unless we reassure 
them that by taking our assistance, they will in no way jeopardize 
their "inalienable right" to make such fuel on their own if they 
subsequently should choose to do so. European supporters of 
such assurances even insist that offers of such assistance will be 
believable only if the fuel is produced in facilities built in states 
that don't currently make nuclear fuel. 

None of this is likely to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons 
capabilities. As the Wohlstetters noted in their analyses, there is no 
reliable, timely way to detect military diversions from centrifuge 
enrichment plants or reprocessing plants. These facilities could 
quickly convert fresh or spent power-reactor fuel into bomb- 
usable plutonium or uranium. Nor did the Wohlstetters see any 


reliable way to prevent or detect in a timely manner the gradual 
or quick diversion of nuclear weapons-usable and near weapons- 
usable fuels to make bombs. 

None of these points are getting their due today. There is 
renewed interest in negotiating a "verifiable" military fissile 
material production cutoff treaty, but there really is no way to 
verify such a treaty effectively, not only because covert bomb-fuel 
plants cannot be detected reliably, but because a military cutoff 
treaty would still allow states to make nuclear fuel for "peaceful" 
purposes. Insisting that these civilian plants can be safeguarded 
in weapons states will inevitably lead nonweapons states to insist 
that they can be safeguarded everywhere. Even now, one hears 
desperate talk of somehow limiting Iran's nuclear enrichment 
activities so that they might be safeguarded. Sadly, this is not 

For these and other reasons, the Wohlstetters were eager 
to discourage states from pursing dangerous nuclear activities. 
They also were skeptical of regionalizing them. Where were these 
regional fuel-making centers to be located? Who would build, 
run, and own them, and what would be charged for the fuel 
produced? Would such services increase or decrease the number 
of states that could acquire nuclear weapons, or simply be used 
as yet another reason for states to acquire large, uneconomical 
reactor programs of their own? 

These questions bring us back again to current proposals 
to make nuclear fuel available at "reasonable" prices from 
international or regional nuclear fuel banks. Wouldn't subsidizing 
the fuel simply encourage more states to pursue nuclear energy 
programs? Each reactor would require tons of fresh low enriched 
uranium, and would make many bombs worth of weapons-usable 
plutonium annually. What would prevent these states from using 
these materials to make highly enriched uranium or separated 
plutonium? As already noted, the official U.S. position is that 
all states retain their "right" to make such materials at any time. 
What is to keep them from exercising this "right"? 

Atoms for Peace. 

This, then, brings us to a related problem that Roberta 
Wohlstetter spotlighted in her detailed Energy Research and 
Development Agency study. The Buddha Smiles: Absent-Minded 
Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb (1976): the tendency of American 
and allied officials to oversell the "control value" of various 


civilian nuclear initiatives. This point is all too painfully clear 
when examining the U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements and 
disputes with India, which arose from Canada's and America's 
concessionary diplomacy of the 1950s and 1960s. Here, American 
and Canadian diplomats thought that they had secured clear, 
"peaceful" end-use pledges from New Delhi that would prevent 
India from ever misusing the nuclear goods that they might 
receive. The pledges, instead, were fatally vague. India, in fact, 
insisted that it had done nothing wrong in using this aid to 
detonate what it called a "peaceful" nuclear explosive device. 

Diplomatic failures of this sort — the result of haste and 
inattention — are still prevalent today. Certainly, many of the 
contentious Indian demands made during the 1950s and 1960s 
regarding the CIRUS and Tarapur reactors are all too similar to 
those more recently raised during the negotiation of the U.S.- 
Indian civilian nuclear cooperative agreement. If the U.S. Execu- 
tive Branch is not lucky, it may yet see India test nuclear weapons 
and again have to defend such action against Congressional 
demands that Washington suspend further U.S. nuclear co- 

This helps explain why the Wohlstetters were so hard-nosed 
when it came to nuclear restraints and economics. They understood 
the power of economics, and believed that it was a mistake for any 
government to pay extra to produce strategic forces or nuclear 
electricity or fuels if, in the process, it only reduced security. They 
both went to great lengths to analyze the economics of different 
types of nuclear power fuels and reactors, and to detail the high 
economic and security costs of creating even a "small" nuclear 

This analysis complemented their insight that the best 
proposals for restraint played to the natural tendencies of states 
to defend themselves and to surrender only that which was safe 
to give up. Rather than relying heavily on efforts to bribe specific 
states into "doing the right thing" {e.g., Agreed Frameworks, 
Iranian nuclear incentive packages, and other "grand bargains"), 
the Wohlstetters preferred to develop country-neutral rules that 
played to states' clear security interests. 

In this vein, Albert sketched out a worthy proposal in a brief 
memo entitled "Nuclear Triggers and Safety Catches, the 'FSU' and 
the 'FSRs'" (1992). The memo addressed the potential problems 
posed by Russian nuclear weapons in post-Soviet Ukraine. Albert 
asks: Instead of trying to reduce the number of nations with their 
finger on the nuclear "trigger" (i.e., demanding that Ukraine give 


up its nuclear weapons to Russia), why not secure the weapons 
and increase the number of states — starting with Ukraine, Russia, 
and the United States — that would have a veto over the Ukraine's 
ability ever to regain access to the weapons? In discussing this 
idea further, Albert was quite willing to see his idea expanded 
to cover other nuclear problem sets — for example, to weapons- 
usable nuclear materials.* Why not get Japan, North Korea, and 
China to surrender whatever direct-use nuclear materials they felt 
comfortable to declare to be in surplus (including highly enriched 
uranium, plutonium-based fuels, and separated plutonium) and 
make access to this material by any of these states contingent 
upon total agreement among and consent from all of these states? 
Initially, one might simply put the material under safe storage 
with state-of-the-art cipher locks. Later, one could remove the 
material to some safer, more remote location {e.g., Greenland) 
with much greater physical barriers and protections. The idea 
would be to increase the number of states whose fingers would 
be on the "safety catch" rather than reduce the number of states 
whose fingers were on any nuclear trigger, and also to increase 
the holdings kept under such safety arrangements.' 


Albert was fond of arguing that it would be nice if we could 
somehow stop making our mistakes hereditary. What he was 
referring to, of course, was the diplomatic tendency not only to 
grandfather past errors, but to insist that we repeat them in the 
future so that no one might notice the original mistake. What's 
worrisome about this practice is that it generally works. In time, 
we accept our past policy choices as absolutes and actually stop 
thinking about reversing course — even when it makes sense to do 

There's no question but that if the Wohlstetters were 
alive today, they would continue to push for clear changes in 
U.S. and allied policies regarding civilian nuclear energy and 
nonproliferation. They certainly would be dismayed by the 
current enthusiasm to use plutonium-based fuels commercially 
and to subsidize further capital-intensive nuclear energy projects. 
They would object to the U.S. -Indian nuclear deal, as well as to 
nuclear cooperative efforts with states in the unstable Middle 
East, and would be sharp critics of the way the United States and 
its allies have handled the North Korean and Iranian crises. What 


would distinguish them from other such critics today, however, 
would be that their objections would not be partisan, but would 
be consistent with many decades of sound research. We could do 
much worse than to read them either again — or for the first time. 

ENDNOTES - Sokolski 

1. E.g., see Brad Roberts, "Rethinking N + 1 Proliferation of 
Nuclear Weapons," The National Interest, Spring 1998; and David 
Santoro, "Of the Utility of the Non-Proliferation Regime: The 
Essential Dialectic between Supply and Demand," in Strengthening 
the Global Nonproliferation Regime: Views from the Next Generation, 
Brad Glosserman, ed., Washington, DC: Pacific Forum CSIS Young 
Leaders, May 2006, available from 

2. See Albert Wohlstetter, Strength, Interest and New Technolo- 
gies, opening address before The Implications of Military Technology 
in the 1970s, the Institute for Strategic Studies' ninth annual confer- 
ence, Elsinore, Denmark, September 28 to October 1, 1967, D(L)- 
16624-PR, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, January 24, 
1968, available from 
DL16624/DL16624.html. The address was also published as 
Wohlstetter, Strength, Interest and New Technologies, in The 
Implications of Military Technology in the 1970s, Adelphi Papers No. 
46, London, UK: Institute for Strategic Studies, March 1968. 

3. We have more than an inkling of what the Wohlstetters' 
views of the Israeli and Indian nuclear programs were. In Moving 
Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd? (1976), the Wohlstetters 
were quite clear about the high costs and negative security 
value of nuclear weapons for smaller states such as Japan. They 
spotlighted the great expense smaller nations would have to pay 
in order to make their nuclear forces truly survivable and effective 
against large and small competitors. Regarding Israel, Professor 
Wohlstetter published little but detailed before a student seminar 
held in 1976 — years before it was publicly clear that Israel had 
nuclear weapons — the "mistake" Israel made in acquiring its own 
nuclear forces. His key arguments were that Israel would gain 
little in possessing its own nuclear force, that maintaining sound 
relations with the U.S. would otherwise provide security, and that 
Israel would run severe strategic risks if these relations soured. 
The reason why was simple: Israel (and other states, including 


nations as large as Japan) could hardly make its nuclear forces 
truly competitive against major powers, whose favor Israel's 
security would ultimately rely upon. 

4. The best known of these studies was Moving Toward Life 
In a 'Nuclear Armed Crowd? a Pan Heuristics report completed for 
the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1976 and 
subsequently published by the University of Chicago Press in 
1979 as Swords from Plowshares: The Military Potential of Civilian 
Nuclear Energy. 

5. Albert Wohlstetter once warned his University of Chicago 
class against thinking that "deterrence" was always a very clear 
thought. "Turning a verb into a noun," he warned, "was rarely a 
good idea." With this in mind, one would have to wonder about 
the clarity of "nonproliferation," which is a verb ("proliferate") 
turned into a noun, and with a prefix ("non") attached to it. 

6. On these points, cf. the U.S. Department of Energy's 
website, www. gne-p. energy. gov; Edwin Lyman and Frank von 
Hippel, "Reprocessing Revisited: The International Dimensions 
of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership," Arms Control Today, 
April 2008, available from www. _04:/ 
LymanVonHippel.asp; and Committee on Review of DOE's Nuclear 
Energy Research and Development Program, National Research 
Council, Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development 
Program, Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007, 
esp. "Minority Opinion: Dissenting Statements of Gilinsky and 
Macfarlane," pp. A1-A6, available from www.nationalacademies. 
org/morenews/20071029.html . 

7. On these points, see Victor Gilinsky, "Nuclear Consistency: 
"The U.S.-India Deal and Our Approach to Rogue Nuclear Powers 
Is Threatened by Double Standards," National Review Online, April 
30, 2007; and Roberta Wohlstetter, The Buddha Smiles: Absent- 
Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb, PH-78-04-370-23, final 
report prepared for the U.S. Energy Research and Development 
Administration in partial fulfillment of E (49-l)-3747, Los Angeles, 
CA: Pan Heuristics, November 15, 1976, revised November 
1977, available from 
BuddhaSmiles-Revised.pdf, courtesy Joan Wohlstetter. 


8. Author's private conversation with Albert Wohlstetter at 
his California residence, spring 1992. 

9. This idea should be seen as still ahead of its time. A 
similar proposal recently was suggested by Robert Einhorn at an 
international conference hosted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative 
and the Norwegian Government held in 2008 in Oslo, Norway. 


Nuclear Sharing: NATO and the N + 1 Country (1961) 
Albert Wohlstetter 

On July 24, 2009, the copyright permission expired for SSI's web- 
site posting of this Foreign Affairs article. Although this article has 
been removed from the online version of Nuclear Heuristics, the 
text of this article is available in the hard copy version of the 
book. For more, visit 

Spreading the Bomb without Quite Breaking the Rules (1976) 

Albert Wohlstetter 

From Foreign Policy, No. 25, Winter 1976, pp. 88-94 and 
145-179. Courtesy of the Wohlstetter Estate. 

The basic problem in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons 
is that in the next 10 years or so many countries, including many 
agreeing not to make bombs, can come within hours of a bomb 
without plainly violating their agreement— without "diverting" 
special nuclear material and, therefore, without any possibility of 
being curbed by "safeguards" designed to verify whether material 
has or has not been diverted. 

This development would lower the political and economic 
price of nuclear weapons and at the same time greatly increase the 
incentives to acquire them. The legal acquisition of concentrated 
fissile material by regional powers will increase the desire of 
regional adversaries to do the same. Such a development is 
encouraged by the incoherence and carelessness of the policies of 
the United States and other nuclear exporters which allow material 
easily turned into bombs by government nuclear laboratories to 
be used or produced during the course of civilian research or the 
generation of electricity. 

The problem in the present export rules can be made vivid by 
a comparison. Under these rules a non-weapon state can come 
closer to exploding a plutonium weapon today without violating 
an agreement not to make a bomb than the United States was 
in the spring of 1947, when the world considered us not only 
a nuclear power but the nuclear power. The plutonium bombs 
of the time were primitive in design and crated in knockdown 
form. The very bulky high explosives had to be glued together 
piece by piece with slow-drying adhesives to form an implosion 
system. The fusing and wiring circuits were much more primitive 
than those commercially available today, and even a skilled team 
would have required several days to put a weapon together. In 
the spring of 1947, moreover, we had no skilled teams. Yet some 
believe our nuclear force to have been the main obstacle to an 
adversary reaching the English Channel, and others believe it to 
have been the backup for "atomic diplomacy." It should make 
suppliers thoughtful that their nuclear exports might bring a non- 
weapon state closer to exploding a plutonium bomb today than 
the United States was in 1947. 


The Incoherence of Current U.S. Policies 

From the outset of the nuclear age it has been clear that design- 
ing a bomb and getting the nonnuclear components are much 
easier than getting fissile material in high enough concentration for 
an explosive. Research on bomb design and testing of nonnuclear 
bomb components are not prevented by agreements on nuclear 
cooperation, and can proceed in parallel with the accumulation 
of fissile material. Fissile uranium (in particular, uranium-235) 
or fissile plutonium (especially plutonium-239) concentrated 
enough to need no isotope separation^ and only a modest amount 
of chemical separation are then the main hard steps on the way to 
a nuclear bomb. 

The fresh fuel used in the present generation of power reactors 
is either natural uranium, which is almost all uranium-238 with 
less than 1 percent of the fissile isotope uranium-235, or low 
enriched uranium with only 3 percent to 4 percent of uranium-235. 
Such fresh fuel with less than 20 percent of uranium-235 cannot 
be used in an explosive without isotopic separation. But the 
irradiated or "spent" uranium fuel contains, along with other by- 
products, significant quantities of plutonium which result from 
the absorption of neutrons by the uranium-238. The plutonium 
so generated along with electricity has upward of 70 percent of 
the fissile isotopes of plutonium and requires no isotopic, but only 
chemical separation to be used in an explosive. Some "critical 
experiments" use large amounts of plutonium and uranium in 
metal form needing little further change. 

To avoid putting fissile, that is, readily fissionable, material 
into the hands of non-weapon states, we deny licenses on 
facilities for isotope separation which could produce highly 
enriched uranium. So also on reprocessing plants for chemically 
separating plutonium. In the nuclear suppliers group, according 
to news accounts, we argue in principle against any other country 
making such exports even under International Atomic Energy 
Agency (IAEA) "safeguards." While we so far haven't won on the 
general principle, we have successfully opposed French sales of 
reprocessing plants to Taiwan and South Korea. And though not 
successful in our opposition, we say we objected to the German 
sale of enrichment and reprocessing plants to Brazil as well as to 
the French sale of a reprocessing plant to Pakistan. We used to 
refuse to license the export of uranium enriched to more than 20 


percent in uraniuin-235, whatever the inspection arrangements. 
All of this recognizes, sometimes explicitly, that safeguards imply 
timely warning and that material that is weeks, days, or hours 
from incorporation in a bomb therefore cannot be effectively 

On the other hand, we have for some time exported to non- 
weapon states, for use in research, both separated plutonium and 
highly enriched uranium, which bring them closer to the bomb 
than do the facilities for separating such material. For example, 
from mid-1968 to spring 1976, we exported 697 kilograms of highly 
enriched uranium and 104 kilograms of separated plutonium to 
Japan and 2,710 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 349 
kilograms of separated plutonium to the Federal Republic of 

And we continue to offer nuclear assistance to countries that 
plan to acquire fissile material, and even to a country like India 
which has already detonated a nuclear explosive in defiance 
of explicit Canadian and U.S. statements over the past decade 
that no nuclear explosive is exclusively peaceful within the 
meaning of their agreements on nuclear cooperation. We say 
that that is what our agreements have always meant (and it is 
indeed their commonsense implication),^ and we try to make 
this obvious meaning explicit in new agreements. Nonetheless, 
for old agreements we content ourselves with statements of U.S. 
unilateral understandings on this subject, and continue nuclear 
exports to countries that have refused to endorse our unilateral 

The State Department assures the Congress that such uni- 
lateral understanding is binding enough, but after the Indians 
made a nuclear explosive using Canadian and U.S. peaceful 
assistance, we denied that the Indians had violated anything 
but the Canadian unilateral understanding and went through 
extraordinary contortions to hide the fact that they had used U.S. 
heavy water. We raised no objections when the French sold a 
reprocessing plant to Japan. Indeed, in 1972, before that sale, 
we had authorized U.S. companies to sell a reprocessing plant to 
Japan under stricter safeguards than the Japanese were willing to 
accept, but apparently no stricter than those they actually accepted 
later for the French sale. 

Our policies at that time did not recognize, as they do now, that 
the sale of reprocessing plants is mistaken even if safeguarded. The 
South Koreans observe that we treat Japan differently from them 


when it comes to reprocessing. The French comment sardonically 
that we make a great fuss about the sale of a reprocessing plant to 
Pakistan, even though our representative to the IAEA approved 
the Agreement between Pakistan, France, and the IAEA on the 
transfer and safeguarding of that plant. And apparently not all 
American officials, and evidently not the most important ones, 
opposed the West German sale to Brazil in tones audible at the 
highest level of the German government. Chancellor Schmidt 
told the press in June 1975 that he regretted criticism by U.S. 
journalists and politicians but that "he knew of no criticism by the 
U.S. government." 

We get then the worst of both worlds: In the end we refused 
to supply reprocessing or enrichment facilities to the Brazilians, 
knowing that though nominally civilian, such facilities could 
bring Brazil close to a bomb. But because we never formulated a 
coherent policy explaining that, it was easy for the Federal Republic 
to tell itself that we were simply sore losers in a business deal and 
that clinching the deal by giving the Brazilians a "sweetener" in 
the form of the principal ingredient of a nuclear explosive was 
perfectly all right. 

Our agreements on nuclear cooperation abound in clauses 
that presume that the importing country will separate and recycle 
plutonium and that stocks of plutonium may in principle be 
effectively safeguarded. Moreover, we have talked of separating 
and recycling plutonium as if they were essential to the future 
of nuclear power both here and abroad, and have allowed the 
myth to persist that power-reactor plutonium cannot be used as 
an explosive. We have recently made the recycling of plutonium 
a "key initiative" in our energy conservation program. The 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has only recently shown 
signs of considering the international consequences of recycling 
to be a factor in the U.S. decision to license it domestically. As for 
uranium, sometime in the 1960s our attention wandered and we 
began to ship highly enriched uranium to non-weapon countries. 
We appear to have shipped some five tons overseas — perhaps 300 
bombs worth of readily fissionable material. Our confusion has 
been durable and bipartisan. 

How We Got Into This Fix 

The extensive fundamental overlap of the paths to nuclear 
explosives and to civilian uses of nuclear energy has been 
recognized since the mid-1940s.* The "heart of the problem" of 


international control, according to Robert Oppenheimer, was 
"the close technical parallelism and interrelation of the peaceful 
and the military applications of atomic energy." We have almost 
from the start said that the military and civilian atoms were 
substantially identical yet, paradoxically, that we wanted to stop 
one and to promote the other. The paradox was present in the 
Truman-Atlee-King Declaration of October 1945, and we made 
our most valiant effort to reconcile these opposing aims in the 
Acheson-Lilienthal Report and the Baruch Plan of 1946. 

The Acheson-Lilienthal Report tried to resolve the dilemma 
by proposing to "denature" plutonium: that is, to spoil it as an 
explosive. This was to be accomplished by leaving the fuel to be 
irradiated in the reactors long enough so that the fissile isotope, 
plutonium-239, generated in the uranium fuel rods, would in turn 
generate a large portion of higher isotopes of plutonium and, in 
particular, a large fraction of plutonium-240, which had serious 
drawbacks from the standpoint of the art of weapons design of 
the time. The idea had been advanced in March 1945, by Leo 
Szilard, quite tentatively. (The troubles with plutonium-240 had 
been discovered only in the summer of 1944.) The Franck Report 
proposed denaturing less cautiously in June 1945. 

Discussion was necessarily muted and limited by the 
requirements of secrecy, by the bounds of the current state of 
the art, and by the limitations of current understanding of that 
state of the art. The initial report was predicated on the belief that 
denaturing would interpose the high barrier of isotopic separation 
between the use of plutonium for civil and military ends. This, 
given the elaborate mechanism of international control called for 
in the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, would assure some two to three 
years warning. The report itself exhibited some uncertainty and 
ambivalence^ about the hope for denaturing and the hope was 
almost immediately modified by a committee of distinguished 
Manhattan Project scientists to suggest that such plutonium could 
be used in a weapon, but would be very much less effective.* Even 
the qualifications immediately introduced, we now know, were not 
strong enough. Yet the initial hope for denaturing has generated 
a long and inconsistent traiF of statements which still have their 
effect in encouraging the belief that plutonium left in the reactor 
long enough to become contaminated with 20 to 30 percent of the 
plutonium-240 or plutonium-242 would be unusable or, at any 
rate, extremely ineffective when used in a nuclear explosive. Since 
power reactors operated "normally" were expected for reasons 


of economics to achieve maximum "burnup" of fuel by leaving 
the fuel rods in the reactor long enough to so contaminate the 
rods, a kind of denaturing was hoped for as a result of standard 
procedures. However, this hope turned out to be a slender reed. 

The Baruch Plan would have given sovereign states control 
only of "safe" civilian activities. They would have gotten all of 
their fissile material in denatured form, separated from spent fuel 
in plants owned by an international authority. That authority was 
to have a monopoly of all "dangerous" activities: that is, all those 
that could quickly be turned to the manufacture of explosives. 
The plan rejected as unworkable any reliance on inspection rather 
than on ownership and control of dangerous activities. 

The Soviets turned down the Baruch Plan. Since then we 
have come to rely on exactly the scheme regarded as unworkable 
by the authors of the Acheson-Lilienthal Report and the Baruch 
Plan. We rely in essence only on accounting and inspection of 
dangerous activities in non-weapon states. We are encouraged 
to do so by remnants of the belief that plutonium from a power 
reactor is not very dangerous. 

But why was it important that plutonium be made safe 
for civilian use? The short answer is that we were powerfully 
impelled after the horrors of Hiroshima to believe that nuclear 
energy had a constructive use in electric power as spectacular 
as its use in military destruction. And we believed, on the basis 
of our initial understanding of the scarcity of uranium, that 
plutonium was essential to the future of nuclear electric power. 
The known reserves of natural uranium in the late 1940s were 
a mere 2,000 short tons. Since natural uranium contains only a 
tiny fraction of the fissile isotope, uranium-235, converting the 
more abundant uranium-238, which is not itself fissile, into fissile 
plutonium seemed a logical way to extend the scarce supply 
of fissile material for electric power. (From the first, we had 
contemplated using plutonium not only in breeders, but also in 
present-day reactors.) 

And the natural impulse to find civilian use for this enormous 
force led statesmen frequently to talk as if the civilian use were 
a substitute for the military one: The more we used atoms for 
peace, the less we would use them for war. We subsidized the 
spread of civilian nuclear technology not simply in the hope for 
spectacular economic benefits, but as if it were a decisive measure 
of nuclear disarmament. We dispersed "research" reactors in the 
Third World as a substitute for sending a symbolic "atomic peace 


ship" around the world rather than as a matter of hard economics 
for development, and were embarrassed to find that we had made 
it a matter of international prestige to have a research reactor, 
even for countries that had no trained personnel to use it. We 
made concessionary loans for power reactors almost as tenuously 
based in economics, and we did this as if they were necessarily 
advancing the cause of peace. 

Robert Oppenheimer was quite right in saying that, unlike 
the Acheson-Lilienthal Report or the Baruch Plan, the Atoms 
for Peace program had no "firm connection with atomic 
disarmament" and that its bearing on the prospect of nuclear 
war was "allusive and sentimental" rather than "substantive 
and functional." This symbolic use of atomic energy antedated 
the Atoms for Peace program and relates to our earliest habits of 
talking about promoting the peaceful uses of the atom as if they 
would automatically displace the military use. 

However, it can be said of the pioneers of the nuclear age 
that though they sometimes talked as if there were a dichotomy, 
they also saw that the heart of the problem was a large overlap 
between civilian and military applications of nuclear energy, and 
they grasped very firmly the point that keeping the two sorts of 
activities separate means more than simply detecting a violation 
of an agreement. It means early detection of the approach by 
a government toward the making of a bomb in time for other 
governments to do something about it. This principle has been 
reaffirmed recently by the president, by the assistant administrator 
for national security of the Energy Research and Development 
Administration (ERDA), and by the inspector general of the IAEA. 
But, in practice, the point has a way of getting lost in the middle 
reaches of both national and international bureaucracies. 

It was only to be expected that over two decades of Atoms for 
Peace programs would result in the formation of large groups of 
professionals in industry, in nuclear engineering departments of 
universities throughout the world, in governments, and in regional 
and international agencies. All of these groups have a strong 
interest in the "enlargement and acceleration" of the use of nuclear 
energy and a much milder concern with such long-term problems 
as the disposal of radioactive waste or the spread of nuclear 
explosives. They tend to identify any restraints to control the 
dangers of proliferation as simply — dread word — "antinuclear." 
The hostility has been worsened by some of the extremists of the 
environmentalist movement, who seem dedicated to stopping and 


dismantling all civilian nuclear power rather than controlling its 
dangers and encouraging the development of safe forms of nuclear 
and nonnuclear energy. The nuclear energy faction inside large 
industrial corporations in turn feels embattled by any attempt at 
further restriction, precisely because reactor manufacture has so 
far involved great business losses in spite of subsidy. The nuclear 
debate degenerates into a dog fight between extremes, with the 
accusations by Squeaky Fromme and the Manson Family about 
a nuclear power conspiracy almost mirrored in the dark hints by 
the beleaguered industrial bureaucracy. 

For example, delegates to a meeting in Vienna last spring of 
the International Union of Producers and Distributors of Electrical 
Energy suggested that the holdups in separating plutonium to 
"close" the fuel cycle are due to "subversive elements" at work 
among groups opposing nuclear development.* At a conference 
in Diisseldorf earlier that week the chief executive of VEBA, 
a leading West German energy concern, indicated that the 
nuclear opposition was heavily backed with cash "from across 
the border."' But from the standpoint of reactor manufacturers 
whose profits are all still in the future, less sales promotion and a 
more sober look at the social and even the entrepreneurial risks 
would be salutary for the industry itself. Treating as the enemy all 
doubters of nuclear market and cost-benefit studies encourages 
badly timed investments and the present industry troubles. 

However we got into our present fix, we still have to ask what 
the fix portends for the future of proliferation, if we do nothing. 

Is the Spread Likely? 

Past predictions of immediate spread have, for the most part, 
been false alarms. So, immediately after the war, scientists who 
had figured in the Manhattan Project predicted that, unless there 
were very drastic international controls, bombs would spread 
rapidly. Harold Urey forecast a half dozen countries entering the 
nuclear club in as few as five years. Irving Langmuir predicted 
that Russia would get nuclear weapons very quickly, but would 
be beaten in the race by Canada and England. And the general 
public reflected this pessimism. Intelligence estimates in 1948 
were more hopeful (excessively so in predicting when the Soviet 
Union would get the bomb), but official predictions have had 
their ups and downs. 

A second flurry of alarm came in the late 1950s as the military 


potential of the Atoms for Peace programs began to be visible. 
Officials predicted, for example, that not only Canada and 
Sweden would get nuclear weapons in the early 1960s but, unless 
there were a multilateral nuclear force. West Germany would too. 
Perhaps the best known study done then was by the American 
Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Planning 
Association (NPA): it suggested that without international 
control there might be as many as 10 new nuclear powers in five 
years. This study was summed up somewhat incautiously by C.P. 
Snow's famous statement in 1960 that all physical scientists "... 
know that for a dozen or more states, it will only take perhaps six 
years, perhaps less" to acquire fission and fusion bombs. Nothing 
of the kind happened. By comparison with these early alarms, 
the actual increase in the number of countries testing nuclear 
explosives has been very slow. Three additional countries tested 
at intervals of eight, four, and 10 years in the 22 years following 
the British nuclear explosion. 

There is a lesson to be drawn from a close examination of these 
past apocalyptic predictions. They assumed essentially that, in the 
absence of some quite extreme and politically implausible change 
in circumstance, countries that could get nuclear weapons would 
do so, and would do so more or less in the order of their technical 
and industrial competence. The incentives and drawbacks for 
proceeding with a nuclear weapons program were in all essentials 
neglected. However, political will is the key, rather than mere 
competence. The demand for weapons was softened by a system 
of working alliances and explicit or implicit guarantees that 
applied to most of the then likely prospects for an independent 
nuclear capability. The price and risks in undertaking a nuclear 
weapons program were also higher than most of the prophets 
had recognized. It is important today, as then, to look soberly at 
incentives and disincentives for the spread and how they might 
be affected. We should not easily assume inevitability. 

Some students of proliferation, however, observe that three 
countries tested in the first decade, two in the second, one in 
the third, and are made excessively cheery by the diminishing 
sequence. But changes are taking place beneath the placid surface, 
which is presently undisturbed by new countries testing weapons. 
These changes are much less cheering. Under the present rules, 
civilian nuclear energy programs now under way assure that 
many new countries will have traveled a long distance down 
the path leading to a nuclear weapons capability. The distance 


remaining will be shorter, less arduous, and much more rapidly 
covered. It need take only a smaller impulse to carry them the rest 
of the way. There is a kind of Damoclean overhang of countries 
increasingly near the edge of making bombs. 

For convenience, distinguish three conditions in which 
plutonium might be found in the course of generating nuclear 
electric power. The first is the accumulation of plutonium in 
irradiated or "spent" uranium fuel which is now a normal by- 
product of any operation of our current reactors. The second 
condition, much closer to being usable in a nuclear weapon, would 
be that of plutonium in fresh mixed plutonium and uranium 
oxide fuel rods. Even if a country did not separate plutonium 
or manufacture such mixed oxide fuel rods itself, it could have 
plutonium in this second form in reloads of mixed oxide fuel at 
the input end of reactors. Plutonium in the third condition would 
be found already separated in the form of plutonium dioxide or 
plutonium nitrate. In this form, it could be found at the output end 
of a separation plant, or at the input end and in stocks-in-process 
in facilities that manufacture mixed plutonium and uranium fuel 
rods. Plutonium in these three conditions comes successively 
closer to a nuclear explosive. The last two conditions need occur 
only if plutonium recycling becomes general. 

At present, our agreements on cooperation in general leave 
title to the spent fuel and all its products in the importing country. 
For governments accumulating the spent fuel, the barrier to 
obtaining a high enough concentration of fissile plutonium will 
be the need to separate the plutonium chemically. This is a less 
formidable obstacle than isotopic separation, the facility for which 
costs billions of dollars using present techniques and would take 
years to construct. Nonetheless, chemical separation is substantial 
barrier and perhaps the most important one remaining, if nuclear 
suppliers do not secure the return of spent fuel. Getting spent 
fuel is a considerable stride along the road to nuclear weapons, 
compared to the position of the weapon states which started 
from scratch. But spent fuel still needs to be reprocessed, and 
that involves delay and then remote manipulation of extremely 
toxic, radioactive substances, facilities with six or seven feet of 
shielding, lead glass windows, etc. Tons of spent fuel must be 
handled to produce kilograms of plutonium. 

At the other extreme is the plutonium that would be stored 
at the output or "back" end of reprocessing plants and at the 
input or "front" end of plants fabricating plutonium or "mixed 
oxide" fuel. Such plutonium in the form of plutonium dioxide 


or plutonium nitrate could be converted to plutonium metal 
using generally known methods and without remote handling 
equipment or extensive shielding and the like, but only a glove 
box. It should take no more than a week in a facility covering 
3,600 square feet and costing about $1,400,000. 

Plutonium would also be found, if it is recycled, in fresh 
unirradiated fuel rods at the input end of the reactor. Extracting 
plutonium from such mixed oxide fuel would be very much 
easier than taking it out of the irradiated spent uranium fuel. 
Plutonium is more concentrated in the mixed oxide fuel rods (4.5 
percent compared to .7 percent). Unlike irradiated fuel, it is not 
highly radioactive and would require no delay, no "hot cells" 
with heavy shielding, no remote manipulation, and no removal of 
fission products. A facility for separating 5 kilograms per day and 
converting it to plutonium nitrate might exist in a 1,400 square foot 
laboratory and might cost $235,000. This is trivial by comparison 
with the cost of a facility for deriving comparable quantities of 
plutonium nitrate from the spent uranium fuel. The latter might 
cost from $75 million to $100 million. The difference is important, 
because today many proposals would ban separating plutonium 
in non-weapon states, but not recycling it in mixed plutonium and 
uranium fuel. So, for example, early drafts of U.S. agreements of 
cooperation with Egypt and Israel. 

We can measure the advance toward the ability to man- 
ufacture nuclear explosives implicit in recent civilian nuclear 
electric programs, as of 1975, by showing first the number of 
countries, including the present weapon states, that would have 
enough separable but possibly unseparated plutonium for a few 
bombs between now and 1985. Second, the large number of 
countries with various quantities of plutonium in fresh reloads 
of unirradiated plutonium fuel if plutonium recycling should 
become general, and even if these countries do not themselves 
separate plutonium or manufacture plutonium fuel rods. Third, 
the number of countries that have planned to have a capability to 
separate that much plutonium by 1985. The results of these three 
sets of calculations are displayed respectively in Figure 1, Table 1, 
and Figure 2. 


FigurA 1 

The overhang of countries with enough 
■eparebte Plutonium for piimitivaar •mall 
mllltBrv forest 

Vertical scale: number of countries 







pbionium iQt 3-6 nuctear 

A CauntfiBs havmg separable 
plulonium lor SO-SOnuclear 

^CQunifLat that have Bxplod^d 
a nuclear device 

'25 kg o1 pjulonnum which 
mighl provide enough bombs 
for InsirBSQrlu&ein 
a n tipopu lai lOi^ i t ^ ack s 

' 250 kg of plu tool urn which 
mighi provide enough bombs 
t<i call fOT more syste malic 
■ntegraiLon into a military 

"A»Limei linear increase at 
the same rate as the past 

1945 50 55 '60 65 70 75 80 85 90 

Figure 1. 


Tabk 1 

Plutonium Available 
from Reloads of Mixed Plutonium 
and Uranium Oxide (mox) Fuel 

in the Early 1990s* 

kg of Pu' Number of 
(Plutonium) Bombs' Worth'' 










West Germany 















South Korea 






























* i/iing only indigcnouily produced piutonium and 
asiuminf that onr rdoad is attvayi ktpt at each cmc- 
for, Antf cou.fttry without its own MOX futl fobrico' 
tion faciiities could justifif nochinij one reload. A 
iingh MOX reload migbi contain i56-90O kg of plu- 
torttun7 (40 to 104 bombs worth). Countries that 
fabricate MOX fuel WQuid hat^ stiti men plutaniwrn 
ovaitablr in procets^ 

^Aauming ?S0 hg ptr i.OQQ megaufatt boiling water 
reactor reload and 770 kg ptr I.OOQ tnegawntr prrt- 
iiirized water r*flf ror reload, tirjtar scaling for other re^ 
dffdr iizei. See L^5. Atomic Entrgg Commasion, 
Generic EnvHimmcriai Stilcmcnt Mixtd Oxide Fuel 
(GESMO), Voi. III. August 1^7 4, p. IV C-65. 

° S,62 kg Pti pte bomb asiutning 5kg ^sstte Pu/bomb 
and asiuming MOX Pix la 5S per f^nf fiixile Pu- 

'^ The figures for India are tht remit of dirett taitutti- 

Table 1. 


Figure 2 

Countries planning to have plants for 
■sparating plutonium orenriching uranium in 
quantities enough for several bombs 

Vertical scale: number of countries 




'United Kingd!»m 
Jnifait StitBS 

1945 50 '55 '60 '65 70 75 80 '85 90 
# Countries that have exploded a nuclear device 

O Countries having reprocessing facilities and 
separable plutonium for 3-6 nuclear weapons 

O Countries having reprocessing facilities and 
separable plutonium for 30-60 nuclear weapons 

£i Countries having uranium enrichment facilities 

'There is no hard evidence that Israel has a 
reprocessing plant. The date shown for Israel is 

—Assumes linear increase at the same rate as the past 

Figure 2. 

The first thing to be said about the numbers in these charts is 
that they are very large ones. Chemical separation of plutonium 
and the enrichment of uranium are civilian activities which have 
long been regarded as "normal," if not yet operational, parts of 
the nuclear electric fuel cycle. They may sometimes and in some 


places be discouraged by various ad hoc national policies, but 
they have not been subject to a clear-cut international or universal 
national prohibition by supplier countries. The problem of 
inhibiting or reducing the size of this burgeoning capacity is not 
merely then a matter of an improved watch, to see that a clearly 
agreed prohibited line is not crossed. Among other things it would 
involve defining and moving such a clearly agreed boundary to 
preclude activities which cannot provide adequate warning. And 
for whatever dangerous activities remain on the permissible 
side of the agreed boundary, we need to elaborate a consistent 
national policy to discourage them and encourage other safer 

The second thing to be said is that this large growth is not 
inevitable. It presumes the carrying through of plans, negotiations, 
and constructions not yet firmly committed; some, like the 
Korean and Taiwan separation plants, have had setbacks. The 
growth, moreover, is open to further influence, a subject for the 
elaboration of policy of supplier as well as recipient governments. 
But American influence on the policies of various importing and 
exporting countries is limited by the confusion and arbitrariness 
of our policy on access to fissile material. Figures 1 and 2 and 
Table 1 are not unconditional forecasts, but indications of what 
may happen if conditions are not altered. 

The gist of these figures is that, under the present rules of the 
game, any of a very large number of countries may take these 
further long strides toward the production of nuclear weapons 
in the next 10 years or so without violating the rules — at least no 
vigorously formulated, agreed-on rules. 

These paths toward producing weapons are in addition to 
paths which exploit the weakness of sanctions against breaking 
the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or 
bilateral rules, and in addition to paths open to those governments 
which have not ratified the NPT. Extending the NPT to more 
countries or increasing the efficiency of "safeguards" or physical 
security measures would not, therefore, block these paths. The 
recent interest in measures against "diversion," while useful in 
itself, distracts attention from the steady spread of production 
capacities within the rules. 

Some part of the stocks of fissile material might always be 
diverted within the limits of error of material unaccounted for 
by any inspection system. In the future, when these stocks are 
very large, diverting even a small percentage would yield sizable 


absolute amounts. This tends therefore to be the focus of most 
attention. Yet it is much less important than the possibility of 
piling up significant stocks of fissile material legally, without 
diversion, for use later in explosives. 

I have distinguished for convenience four kinds of nuclear 
explosive capacity. The first is the sort of capacity which has been 
much in the public eye in the last year or two, due especially to 
the efforts of Dr. Theodore Taylor to make clear its dangers. It 
would consist in the manufacture of a crude device derived from 
stolen fissile material, perhaps not using plutonium metal, but 
plutonium dioxide powder, yielding as little as 10 or 100 tons of 
energy, and designed for terrorist use by some nongovernmental 
group, or possibly even a single individual. It might use poorly 
separated material and be dangerous not merely if exploded in 
anger, but to store and handle. 

The second capacity would rely on a few explosives, perhaps 
implosion weapons in the kiloton or greater range. They might 
be used by governments as a desperate last resort threat against 
populations (or transferred by some governments to terrorists). 
The third capacity I have taken arbitrarily as consisting in perhaps 
50 such devices, enough to call for plans to incorporate them into 
a military force. The fourth would be much more sophisticated. It 
is the kind that an industrial power like Japan might contemplate, 
if it made the decision to become a military nuclear power in the 
1980s or 1990s. It would require very sophisticated fission and 
fusion weapons with predictable yields and with more advanced 
and protected delivery capabilities. 

This article focuses especially on the second sort of capability. 
It imposes no stringent requirements for delivery. (These require- 
ments are very stringent for a middle power to get a serious and 
responsible force in the 1980s.) I do not, however, mean to imply 
that the capacity to produce a few bombs for use as a last resort 
will actually realize the hopes some government might place in 
it. It is likely to be extremely inflexible, vulnerable, and available 
only for suicidal use. Nonetheless, some governments might take 
this route. 

However, the nuclear energy bureaucracy, and statesmen 
informed by it, have been cheerfully arguing that the recycling of 
plutonium will not make the spread of weapons more likely. Their 
arguments are residues of the initial faith in denaturing. They 
are saying that power reactor plutonium would be contaminated 
in normal reactor operations and abnormal operations would be 


quickly detected and punished; that power reactor plutonium 
cannot be used as an explosive; or if so used, it would be 
ineffective, with generally low yields and highly variable ones; 
that only sophisticated nuclear weapon countries like the United 
States and the Soviet Union, with many years in the business, 
could so derive weapons that have any genuine military use; and 
finally, with a touching bathos, that power reactor plutonium is 
anyway less than optimal for weapons. 

It is surprising that the faith in denaturing of plutonium, 
however plausible initially, could have survived for more than 
three decades. Since this belief explicitly or implicitly rationalizes 
so much carelessness, it is important, before putting it to rest, 
to offer some current examples. "Both Framatome and French 
officials," according to Nucleonics Week, June 3, 1976, "deny the 
[South African] deal is conducive to weapons building. 'The 
worst way to make a bomb is to buy an LWR (light water reactor) 
for 5 billion francs,' commented Leny. Abourdarham [also of 
Framatome] added, 'To get clean Pu-239 from our type of reactor, 
you'd have to lower the burnup rate and discharge the reactor not 
once a year but about twice a month.' The higher the burnup the 
more contaminated the spent fuel is with Pu-240." The new French 
foreign minister, while ambassador to the United Nations, told the 
Security Council flatly that plutonium so derived "could not be 
used for military purposes."^" In Germany, officials of Kraftwerk 
Union have suggested that weapons-grade plutonium must be 98 
percent pure plutonium-239, and that anything less could be used 
not in a military weapon, but only in "terrorist explosive devices" 
of low and uncertain yield, which in any case would be extremely 
hard for terrorists to make." The Swedish government committee 
on radioactive wastes (the Aka Committee) reports that "The 
plutonium . . . produced in Swedish power reactors contains as 
much as 25 percent to 30 percent of plutonium-240 [and] . . . can 
only be utilized in weak and probably unreliable nuclear charges 
of highly questionable military value. "^^ 

In the United States, the president of the Atomic Industrial 
Forum says that if nuclear reactors are "run on an economic fuel 
cycle — that is, long irradiation times — the plutonium produced 
is readily used only for making explosive devices which are 
hardly military weapons. "^^ He goes on to suggest that only very 
sophisticated weapons countries like the United States and the 
Soviet Union are able to overcome the difficulty by special design. 
The Forum's Committee on Nuclear Export Policy concludes that 


we should promote peaceful nuclear electric power only to the 
extent consistent with the goal of eliminating proliferation, but 
they do not think that should impose much constraint, since, 
"... power reactors are not a practical or economic vehicle for 
producing weapons-grade plutonium. The processing of fuel 
from a power reactor at low irradiation levels would be costly 
and revealing of intentions, thus jeopardizing the supply of new 
fuel. On the other hand, the use of reactor-grade plutonium of 
high irradiation levels for weapons purposes presents formidable 
technical challenges."^* 

And finally American government officials in agencies 
granting loans and subsidies to countries like India which have 
or propose to get reprocessing plants take comfort from the fact 
that, "While the plutonium produced by these reactors could be 
used in an inefficient and unsophisticated explosive program, it 
is not optimum material for explosive uses because of the high 
percentage content of the nonfissionable plutonium isotope 
plutonium-240 ." ^^ 

But all of this is quite misleading. For one thing, a non- 
weapon country can operate a power reactor so as to produce 
significant quantities of rather pure plutonium-239 without 
violating any agreements or incurring substantial extra expense. 
This would involve departing from theoretical "norms" for 
reactor operation, but a look at the actual operating record of 
reactors in less developed countries suggests how theoretical these 
norms are. Even in America in the early 1970s, leaking fuel rods 
caused Commonwealth Edison to discharge the initial core of its 
Dresden-2 reactor early, with nearly 100 bombs-worth of 89 to 95 
percent pure fissile plutonium.^'' (In India, as of September 1975, 
97 percent of the fuel discharged from its Tarapur reactors had 
leaked.) Countries like Pakistan and India, with smaller electric 
grids and poorer maintenance, have operated much less and much 
more irregularly than the steady 80 percent of the time originally 
hoped for; and have irradiated their fuel and contaminated the 
plutonium in it less. Since it is neither illegal nor uncommon to 
operate reactors uneconomically, governments may derive quite 
pure plutonium-239 with no violation nor much visibility. 

What is more, there is plainly a considerable latitude in the 
degree of purity actually required for explosives. The discussion in 
the European nuclear industry frequently assumes that "weapons- 
grade" plutonium must be 98 percent pure plutonium-239.^^ In 
this country, however, under present classification guidance. 


the fact that plutonium containing up to and including 8 percent 
plutonium-240 is used in weapons is unclassified as is the fact that 
more than 8 percent plutonium-240 (reactor-grade) can be used to 
make nuclear weapons. 

Most significantly, 20 years of Atoms for Peace programs have 
dispersed well-equipped and well-staffed nuclear laboratories 
among nonnuclear weapons states throughout the world. (For 
example, by 1974 the United States alone had trained 1,100 Indian 
nuclear physicists and engineers. The Shah of Iran plans to 
have 10,000 trained.) Many of these laboratories would be quite 
capable of designing and constructing an implosion device and of 
studying its behavior by nonnuclear firings. It is true that if they 
were to use power reactor plutonium with 20 to 30 percent of the 
higher isotopes, they would be likely to obtain a lower expected 
yield and a greater variation in possible yields than if they should 
use more nearly pure plutonium-239. (Of course a nonnuclear 
component could fail, but this has nothing to do with the grade 
of plutonium used.) However, they could build a device which, 
even at its lowest yield level, would produce a very formidable 
explosion. This may be seen from the record (now public) of the 
characteristics of the Nagasaki plutonium bomb. 

The Fat Man and the Little Boy 

The first American implosion design, "Fat Man," was 
used in the Trinity test and the Nagasaki bomb. It had a finite 
probability of predetonating even though it used an extremely 
high percentage of plutonium-239. Plutonium-239 itself emits 
neutrons spontaneously, though five orders of magnitude less 
so than an equal quantity of plutonium-240. More important, 
though the Trinity and Nagasaki devices used exceptionally pure 
plutonium-239, they had a significant fraction of plutonium-240. 
They had a definite chance, then, of detonating prematurely, that 
is, between the time the rapidly assembling fissile material first 
became critical and the time that it might have arrived at the 
desired degree of supercriticality; and the less supercritical, the 
lower the yield. 

In a memorandum to General Farrell and Captain Parsons 
immediately after the Trinity test, and before the use of Fat Man at 
Nagasaki, Oppenheimer wrote, "As a result of the Trinity shot we 
are led to expect a very similar performance from the first Little 
Boy (the gun-assembled uranium weapon used at Hiroshima) and 


the first plutonium Fat Man. The energy release of both of these 
units should be in the range of 12,000 to 20,000 tons and the blast 
should be equivalent to that from 8,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT. 
The possibilities of a less than optimal performance of the Little 
Boy are quite small and should be ignored. The possibility that 
the first combat plutonium Fat Man will give a less than optimal 
performance is about 12 percent. There is about a 6 percent 
chance that the energy release will be under 5,000 tons, and about 
a 2 percent chance that it will be under 1,000 tons. It should not be 
much less than 1,000 tons unless there is an actual malfunctioning of 
some of the components. . . ." (italics added)^* 

Indeed General Groves, like Oppenheimer writing between 
the Trinity test and the actual use of the implosion weapon at 
Nagasaki, anticipated an increase in the fraction of plutonium-240 
in later weapons. He wrote, "There is a definite possibility, 12 
percent rising to 20 percent as we increase our rate of production 
at the Hanford Engineer Works, with the type of weapons tested 
that the blast will be smaller due to detonation in advance of the 
optimum time. But in any event, the explosion should he on the order 
of thousands of tons. The difficulty arises from an undesirable 
isotope which is created in greater quantity as the production rate 
increases" (italics added)." 

The essential point to be made is that even if a device like 
our first plutonium weapon were detonated as prematurely 
as possible — at a time when the fissile material was least 
supercritical — its would still be in the kiloton range. Apart 
from a modest degradation in the quality of the fissile material 
employed, and hence in the size of the expected yield, all that a 
higher fraction of plutonium-240 in such a first implosion device 
could do is increase the probability of obtaining a yield smaller 
than the optimal, but still as large or larger than that already 
enormously destructive minimum. 

The lowest yield of such a weapon can by no stretch of the 
imagination be called "weak." Moreover, by comparison with the 
average or even the maximum yield possible in that implosion 
design (or by any standard), it would by no means be contemptible. 
In fact, only 7 months before Trinity, the first implosion weapons 
were expected to yield much less than one kiloton.^" A reduced 
yield would not mean a proportionate reduction in damage. The 
area destroyed by blast overpressure diminishes as the two-thirds 
power of the reduction in yield, and the reduction in prompt 
radiation— which is the dominant effect on population of a low- 


yield weapon — is even smaller. (If the expected yield were eight 
kilotons, and the less probable but actual yield were "merely" one 
kiloton, the blast area would be reduced not by seven-eighths, but 
only by three-fourths and the region in which persons in residential 
buildings would receive a lethal dose of prompt radiation would 
only be halved.) The lethal area would still be nearly a square 

Variability in yield would be a drawback for an advanced 
industrial country preparing the sort of force I have referred 
to as of interest to an industrial power like Japan in the 1980s 
or 1990s. Such a power might want a theater weapon that 
minimized collateral damage if only for the protection of its own 
troops. However, for a last resort weapon used against a distant 
population, it is important only that the blast effect of the yield be 
formidable; and if in fact more destructive energy is released than 
anticipated, this would only reinforce the destruction intended. 

Finally, the variations in damage due to differences in the 
purity of the plutonium are likely to be much less than the variation 
in damage due to the differing operational circumstances in the 
use of the weapon. The Nagasaki plutonium implosion bomb 
had an estimated yield of 21 kilotons. The Hiroshima uranium 
gun weapon is now estimated to have released 14 kilotons. Yet, 
due to differences in terrain, weather, accuracy of delivery, and 
the distribution of population, the Hiroshima bomb killed twice 
as many people as the Nagasaki weapon. 

As for the argument that military men would never use a 
device whose result was not precisely predictable, this is not very 
persuasive. If so, military men would hardly ever enter battle. 
The uncertainties of surviving ground attack, of penetrating air 
defense, and of delivering weapons on target are cumulatively 
larger than the uncertainties in the yield of a bomb made with 
power-reactor plutonium. Plans for delivering the first nuclear 
weapons were going forward before any test, and during a period 
when the Manhattan Project scientists had highly varied estimates 
of their yield. 

In sum, no one should believe that power-reactor plutonium 
can be used only in a feeble device too unreliable to be considered 
a military weapon, or that recycling plutonium is therefore safe. 

Recently, as some of the examples I have cited suggest, the 
bureaucracy has taken a slightly different tack: power-reactor 
plutonium can be used as an explosive, it is admitted, but would- 
be nuclear countries won't use it that way. They can get better 


plutonium more cheaply and easily by buying reactors specifically 
for the purpose of producing plutonium and not for generating 
electricity. However, if one already has paid for an electric 
power reactor, the relevant economic figure is not the total, but 
the marginal, or extra, cost to get bomb material, given the fact 
that one has paid anyway for the reactor. In fact, if recycling 
is accepted as essential for the fuel cycle, the cost of separation 
plants would be charged to the generation of electricity and would 
involve no incremental cost for getting separated plutonium for 
weapons. Getting impure plutonium in this way would be nearly 
costless. Getting a significant quantity of rather pure plutonium 
would involve some fuel and operating costs, but these would be 
small by comparison with the expense of a program to produce 
and separate plutonium exclusively for weapons. 

The more important costs are political for any program 
designed overtly to get plutonium for a weapon. That could be 
why the Pakistanis, the Koreans, the Taiwanese, and others deny 
that they are doing any such thing. It would hurt them militarily, 
economically, and politically. They can more easily get the 
financial and technical assistance and trading relations necessary 
for a power reactor. The political costs would be high for the 
exporting country too. 

Finally, what the bureaucracy seems to miss altogether is that 
a non-weapon state under the present rules can proceed down 
the path toward making a weapon without deciding to do so 
in advance. It doesn't have to start out as a "would-be nuclear 
country." It can change its mind or it can make up its mind later. 
It doesn't have to get a production reactor. 

Of course a production reactor might be disguised as a vague 
sort of "research" reactor, though this is likely to yield smaller 
quantities of plutonium. In fact, the rules governing research 
reactors and "critical experiments" have been even more careless 
and need tightening even more than those governing power 
reactors. But this second line of argument is hardly a cheery 
confirmation that the rules make the spread unlikely. It has the 
opposite sense. It has led industry representatives to suggest that 
the spread is inevitable "sooner or later" and we will just have to 
live with it.^^ 


Would the Spread to More Countries be Bad? 

As we and other supplier countries continue to subsidize 
the export of materials, equipment, and information needed 
for making nuclear explosives, the bureaucrats in industry and 
government associated with these programs tend more and more 
to tell themselves and everyone else that the spread of nuclear 
explosives may not be so bad after all: governments that get 
nuclear weapons will themselves behave more cautiously; their 
nuclear weapons will inspire caution in their neighbors; this in 
turn might free the United States from the burden of defending 
some troublesome allies. 

However, the spread of nuclear weapons to many countries 
will disperse not only instruments of deterrence and prudent 
behavior, but also means of coercion and reckless or deliberate 
devastating attack. Not all threats of nuclear aggression will be 
neatly offset and canceled by convincing promises of nuclear 
response. The risks will rise very high. In unstable parts of 
the world, the disasters possible in short conflicts will increase 
enormously. In the Middle East, for example, before outside 
powers could stop the conflict, as a result of an exchange 
involving a few bombs the Arabs might suffer several million and 
the Israelis a million dead in contrast with the thousands killed 
in the October war. In a conventional war, it takes a very long 
time or huge resources to kill the number of people that would 
be destroyed by a few nuclear weapons in a matter of hours. 
The spread of nuclear weapons will reduce our ability to control 
events. It will have a dissolvent effect on alliances, expose our 
own forces overseas to huge new risks, and ultimately impose 
large costs in shaping our own offense and defense to protect the 
continental United States against small terror attacks by national, 
as well as subnational groups. Even distant small powers using 
freighters and short-range missiles, such as the Soviet SCUD, will 
be within system range of the United States. 

Even if such a development were, as it is claimed, inevitable 
"sooner or later," later would be better than sooner, and less better 
than more. 

What Can We Do to Limit or Slow the Spread? 

The characteristic view in the bureaucracy is that we have 
no leverage. We can't prevent foreign suppliers from selling nor 


importers from buying nuclear technology on terms even less 
constraining then ours. It's unfair then to burden our nuclear 
exporters. Besides, we can retain our influence on non-weapon 
states only by continuing to supply them with nuclear services, 
equipment, and materials without interruption. 

There is an obvious muddle in the bureaucracy's view that 
we can't influence events on the one hand, but on the other hand 
that we do have an important influence that we can retain only 
by continuing to export and — to make the muddle muddier — by 
continuing to export to buyers, no matter what their behavior, no 
matter what moves they make toward nuclear explosives. For the 
bureaucracy, in short, we can retain our leverage only it we never 
use it. A lever is a form of abstract art rather than a tool giving us 
a mechanical advantage. 

All this is plainly disingenuous: We've talked of the inevitable 
while actively promoting nuclear energy in non-weapon states in 
forms that permit access to readily fissionable material, subsidizing 
the financing of these sales, giving away research reactors with 
highly enriched uranium cores, assisting "critical experiments" 
that involve hundreds of kilograms of separated plutonium and 
highly enriched uranium, urging that non-weapon states recycle 
plutonium, training engineers from non-weapon states in how to 
separate plutonium, arguing for domestic recycling as an essential 
to the future of all nuclear electric power, and in general setting 
an example to non-weapon states that suggests that the stocking 
of fissile material is both necessary and safe. 

The State Department argues that we must supply nuclear 
services, equipment, and material "reliably"— by which it means 
that we should supply them steadily and indiscriminately to 
importers who do and to those who do not live up to an obligation 
to avoid getting explosives, or materials quickly convertible to 
nuclear explosives. Such "reliable" supply, it claims, will enable 
us to influence the importers. Exactly the opposite of the truth. 
Importers will be influenced to stay away from stocks of explosive 
material only if it costs them something not to do so, and only if 
our threats or sanctions are taken seriously. The Indian use of 
Canadian and American help for "peaceful uses only" in order to 
make nuclear explosives illustrates the point marvelously. The 
Indians guessed right in not taking the constraint seriously. Their 
explosion inspired only ingenious apologies for them in our State 


One token of our lack of seriousness is the piecemeal way we 
decide on licensing exports without considering the cumulative 
effect of our own and other suppliers' individual decisions in 
enabling an importing country to get explosive material. For 
example, we limit the amount of highly enriched uranium in the 
core of an individual research reactor we have given away, but 
place no constraint on the total amount of highly enriched uranium 
the importing country might gather from several sources. In this 
and other ways, we set a confused and incoherent example for 
other suppliers. 

But other supplying countries have an interest in avoiding 
the spread of weapons to more states. The French government 
doesn't like the prospect of Spanish nuclear weapons, and neither 
the Germans nor the French could afford explicitly to use bombs 
as sweeteners for reactor sales, even if they wanted to. The French 
and Germans point out correctly that they now impose more 
stringent safeguards on exports than the IAEA requires, but they 
do not recognize, nor do we point out, that safeguards cannot be 
effectively applied to fissile material only a few hours away from 
a bomb; that is, such "safeguards" cannot give timely warning. 

The principal precondition for us to influence other suppliers 
as well as importers is a clear, consistent policy: a set of signals 
which are green on some activities, red on others. We now flash 
red, yellow and green on practically everything. 

But there are clear signals we can send and effective levers 
we can press. On the political and military side, we can help 
countries defend themselves against nonnuclear attack without 
resort to nuclear weapons. Our military sales program should be 
designed to discourage a nuclear defense and to make nonnuclear 
defenses more effective. And our alliance policy can strengthen 
guarantees against nuclear adversaries. For example, we can 
supply the South Koreans with improved short-range surface- 
to-air missiles and short-range precision guided nonnuclear 
weapons, and discourage their attempts to convert Nike Hercules 
into 200-mile surface-to-surface rockets which would be effective 
only with nuclear warheads and only against population targets. 

On the economic side, we can design our export and export 
financing policy to affect an importing country's energy program 
considered as a whole, not piecemeal, by encouraging the use of 
nonnuclear energy and of comparatively safe forms of nuclear 
energy and by discouraging or penalizing the dangerous forms of 
nuclear energy that permit access to fissile stocks. 


The effectiveness of the levers at our disposal can be illustrated 
by the extreme sensitivity of various programs in the non-weapon 
states of the Third World (where the impending spread is now 
most threatening) to simple alterations in the terms of financing. 
Korea, for example, has drastically cut back its nuclear program 
in response to a slight hardening in Canadian and American 
financial terms. And the effectiveness of our political and military 
levers is illustrated by the cancellation of the Korean reprocessing 

In sum, statements that we have no leverage mean that we 
don't want to press the levers we have, that we are not serious 
about proliferation. We don't think about the international 
consequences of digging ourselves deeper into a commitment 
to recycle plutonium, for example, by bailing out Allied General 
from its costly investment in reprocessing at Barnwell. We prefer 
to hang on to some quite inessential outworn conceptions of the 
nuclear fuel cycle and we are moving toward competing with the 
French and the Germans by giving away para-bomb capabilities. 

Other governments have reason to doubt our claim that 
we unequivocally oppose proliferation. But actions against 
proliferation do cost something. It is only fair to ask whether they 
are worth the cost. 

Will Slowing the Spread Cost More than It Is Worth? 

Slowing the spread means reducing the demand for nuclear 
weapons by intelligent policies of alliance and of military sales 
and assistance. It means reducing the supply of nuclear weapons 
materials by sensible nuclear energy policy for our domestic as well 
as our foreign sales. On the supply side in particular, restrictions 
are often thought of as depriving us and other suppliers of 
enormous market benefits and imposing energy shortages on all 
of us, including the Third World countries now in the market for 
nuclear energy that is at least overtly civilian. 

Nuclear energy has an important role to play, but its positive 
contributions will not make the difference between heaven and 
hell on earth. Its benefits have been puffed up from the start 
in ways that have greatly distorted its performance and made 
national energy programs follow something much less than the 
best path and timing for introducing nuclear energy into the total 
energy mix. A more sober program would benefit the security 
interests of the United States and ultimately the economic interests 


of the industry. Without the extensive conversion of uranium-238 
into plutonium and the separation of plutonium from spent 
fuel, we can have enough coal and enough of the fissile isotope 
uranium-235 at reasonable prices to last us well into the second 
quarter of the twenty -first century. By then we should be able to 
make an intelligent transition to the use of abundant or renewable 
resources: a safe and economic breeder; or a safe form of fusion; or 
solar energy, whether in the form of solar electric power, biomass, 
or some other. We have time. 

The contrary claim that we need immediately to add to 
the reserves of uranium-235 by the extensive use of separated 
plutonium in the current generation of light water reactors, and 
that we should now contract into the early use of the plutonium 
breeder, is based on bad economics. It ignores the way an increase 
in market prices generates a larger supply of specific scarce 
resources (by making them worth finding and exploiting), or a 
supply of substitutes, and at the same time reduces the demand. 

In fact, the nuclear industry has suffered chronically from 
premature commitments based on exaggeration of energy 
demand, the demand for electric power, in particular the 
demand for nuclear electric power, and the derived demand for 
uranium and for enrichment services. This exaggeration applies 
to overseas as well as to domestic demand. And the impression 
of crisis has been encouraged further by understatements of the 
supply that might be made available at various prices and by the 
discouragement of supply that has followed from the wild swings 
in demand when excessive hopes have been deflated. In 1975, 
the AEC predicted 450 GWe^^ of nuclear capacity operating in the 
United States in 1985. In 1970, it predicted 300 GWe by that date. 
Today, on the basis of actual construction and orders, the Federal 
Energy Administration (FEA) expects 145 GWe or less. Given 
varied technical assumptions appropriate for the dates when the 
forecasts were made,^^ these predictions imply a cumulative need 
respectively for about one million, 500,000, or 220,000 tons of fresh 
uranium yellow cake if there is no recycling. The 80,000 tons that 
would be needed annually by the year 1985, if the AEC's 1970 
nuclear power forecasts were right and we did not recycle, far 
exceeds the supply of low cost uranium that might be available at 
that time. The 33,000 tons that would be needed to fulfill the more 
sober FEA schedule during the year 1985 is quite in line with what 
is in prospect. ERDA has estimated that a rate of 33,000 tons can 
be available in the early 1980s at the low forward cost of $15 per 
pound. ^■^ 


Much the same can be said about inflated forecasts of the 
need for uranium enrichment services; and about the longer 
term forecasts until the end of the century for both uranium and 
enrichment. European, Japanese, and Third World nuclear power 
forecasts have been similarly inflated. In 1957, Euratom forecast 
about 15 GWe of nuclear power in 1967 and about 50 GWe in 
1975. In actuality there was 1.6 GWe in 1967 and at the end of 
1976 there will be only about 12.2 GWe.^' The Japanese in 1970 
expected 60 GWe by 1985. They have officially cut this to 49 GWe 
and some Japanese experts expect it to be as low as 30 GWe. 

The nuclear bureaucracy believes that overstating demand is 
much less harmful than understanding it.^* This is not so. The 
exaggeration has severely damaged both national policy and the 
profitability of industry. Exaggerated uranium demand biases 
decisions toward plutonium recycling in the current reactors as well 
as in breeders. The inflated domestic demand for enrichment led 
us in 1974 to ban any new enrichment commitments to foreigners. 
This led to the present scramble overseas to get enrichment 
capabilities independent of the United States with an obvious 
resulting loss of U.S. control. Inflated market expectations have 
also cost the industry money. Chronic premature commitment 
has meant, in the United States, a loss to General Electric of $500 
million to $600 million on 13 turnkey contracts; a loss of $.5 to 
$2 billion by Westinghouse depending on how it settles the legal 
claims of public utilities on its forward sale of uranium that it used 
to sweeten its reactor sales. Royal Dutch Shell and Gulf Oil, the 
two owners of General Atomic, have lost over one billion dollars 
on the latter's high temperature gas-cooled reactor. 

It is hard to disentangle losses on commercial nuclear sales 
in company statements that, in general, merge those losses 
with profits on fossil fuel plants, military nuclear sales, or other 
industrial products. But it appears that Babcock and Wilcox, 
and Combustion Engineering, the other two major U.S. reactor 
manufacturers, have suffered respectively a cumulative loss on 
nuclear sales of about $100 million and $150 million; for 1976 
each will have an estimated $10 million pre-tax loss. General 
Electric' s pre-tax loss on nuclear sales in 1976 will be about $40 
million. AEG Telefunken, part owner of Kraftwerk Union, lost 
DM 685 million ($274 million) on nuclear sales in 1974, and 
expected losses in "three figure millions" marks in 1975.^^ It is 
harder to determine Framatome's losses. As for reprocessing of 
light water reactor fuel, though very little has been performed, the 


losses have been impressive. General Electric's Morris, Illinois, 
plant which cost $64 million had to be abandoned without ever 
going into operation.^* The Allied General Nuclear Services plant 
at Barnwell, owned by Allied Chemical, Royal Dutch Shell, and 
Gulf Oil, originally estimated to cost about $50 million actually 
has cost $250 million so far, and may take about a billion dollars 
in total to complete in accordance with current requirements. 
Getty's Nuclear Fuel Service plant in West Valley, New York, shut 
down for modification after about $30 million in gross sales. It 
might require some hundreds of millions just to dispose of the 
radioactive waste from its previous work. Getty wants to cancel 
some $180 million in reprocessing contracts it has accepted, 
since it estimates it will take $600 million to fulfill the contracts 
within regulatory requirements. The government-owned plant 
in Windscale, England, had troubles with the head end. The 
Eurochemic plant in Belgium has been shut down, and Europeans 
now judge that the recycling of plutonium will exceed the cost 
of getting fresh uranium fuel and that if reprocessing should be 
necessary for waste disposal, it will require subsidies from public 

In general it is plain that for the nuclear industry as a whole, 
profitability is still a vision of the future. Immense losses could be 
avoided by greater realism. 

The collapse of expectations in domestic markets unfor- 
tunately has led to an aggressive campaign to sell to the less- 
developed countries (LDCs), where, in general, nuclear power 
is least economic: Nuclear electricity is highly capital intensive, 
efficient only in very large sizes and requires continuing highly 
sophisticated maintenance. The LDC reactor market, which the 
industrial powers might fight to share, is quite small, and the 
market for reprocessing plants is even smaller — 1 percent or 
2 percent of the reactor market. The heavily subsidized initial 
sales have been made on terms which worsen the problem of 
proliferation without any realistic prospect that the ambitious 
LDC long-term nuclear programs will be fulfilled. Yet in the past 
the French have talked of sales to the Third World of plutonium 
breeders which are more damaging and even less plausible for 
LDCs than the present generation of reactors which [the breeders] 
will exceed in capital costs, diseconomies of small scale, and 

The most urgent issue, if we are to restrict access to fissile 
material, is the use of plutonium as a fuel in current reactors. 
This has been argued for on grounds that it would (1) save a 


lot of money, (2) save much scarce uranium, (3) be essential for 
permanent disposal of radioactive wastes, and (4) be required 
now in order to get the plutonium breeder on present schedules. 
None of this is true. On the first point, the estimates of costs 
for separating plutonium and making it into fuel rods have 
multiplied tenfold in 10 years and are still highly uncertain and 
in controversy. On Vince Taylor's calculations, they exceed the 
estimated costs of fresh uranium fuel rods. Most important, even 
if plutonium separation were costless, it could make only a 1 
percent or 2 percent difference in the delivered kilowatt hour cost 
of nuclear electricity. 

As for point two, the conservation argument should be related 
to the economics: We are not impelled to extract plutonium from 
spent uranium fuel any more than we are presently moved to 
extract the enormous quantities of uranium from sea water. It 
depends on the costs. Fissile material is present in spent fuel in 
more concentrated form than in ore, but, by comparison with 
uranium ore, it is enormously radioactive. There are cheaper 
ways of getting uranium, by mining and even by a change in U.S. 
enrichment policy. (In unpublished work, Vince Taylor of PAN 
Heuristics has shown that the apparent uranium shortage of the 
1980s has been effectively created not only by inflated projections 
of nuclear power and the derived demand for uranium but also by 
U.S. policies that (1) envision adding substantially over the next 
10 years to an already immense government stockpile — worth $8 
billion at current prices — of enriched and natural uranium, (2) 
leave an excessive amount of uranium-235 in the waste streams 
of the enrichment plants, thus inflating the amount of natural 
uranium that must be fed into the plants, and (3) force customers 
to stick to schedules for delivering uranium for enrichment which 
they contracted for before the recent substantial cutbacks in 
nuclear power programs both here and abroad.) But even if one 
were absurdly optimistic about the costs of using plutonium fuel 
for light water reactors, the private cost savings would be trivial. 
The political and social costs plainly dominate. 

As for point three, plutonium separation would remove most 
of the longest-lived radioactive actinides, and so, it has been 
hoped, would economize in packaging and compacting wastes. 
However, spent uranium fuel can be stored without reprocessing 
and recent study indicates that the process of separation will 
contaminate much of the equipment, filters, solvents, etc. used and 
that the total volume and heat content of the waste so created and 


of the spent plutonium fuel which will require remote handling 
and geologic isolation will exceed those of the unreprocessed 
spent fuel. 

On point four, the present schedule calls for ERDA recom- 
mendations on a commercial breeder in 1986. If the decision is 
positive, it is hoped that the first commercial breeder will start 
operating in the mid-1990s. We can, therefore, defer the decision 
on plutonium separation for at least five years. ^^ In fact, the spent 
fuel would cool enough in that period to make separation easier 
and the savings would nearly pay for the storage costs. This fourth 
argument is, however, revealing. It is motivated in good part by 
a desire to force a positive decision on a commercial plutonium 
breeder — another case of premature commitment. The domestic 
U.S. decision on plutonium separation has obvious international 
implications and it is these that will impose the largest political 
and social costs. 


The last year has seen a salutary ferment about changing 
policy so as to discourage nuclear proliferation. Proposals range 
from David Lilienthal's recommendation at one end, to stop all 
nuclear exports, through the bureaucracy's at the other, which 
suggests that we continue pretty much as we are. Rather than 
engage in a detailed analysis of this wide range of proposals, I 
will set down summarily a program indicated by my argument 
so far. 

On the Demand Side 

Slowing the spread of nuclear weapons means reducing the 
demand for them as well as restricting the supply of nuclear 
weapons material. Political and military policy on alliances, 
on nuclear guarantees, and on non-nuclear military sales and 
assistance should be directed to help in non-nuclear defense 
against non-nuclear threats and to provide nuclear guarantees 
against threats of nuclear coercion or attack. I have illustrated 
the sort or thing needed in my earlier remarks about South Korea. 
But such a policy has to be shaped country-by-country and does 
not lend itself to easy summary. 


On the Supply Side 

1. Deny access to readily fissionable material. We need to 
state as a general guide for U.S. domestic as well as export policy 
that it is our plain purpose to deny access by individual terrorists, 
either here or abroad, and to deny access by governments of non- 
weapon states to nuclear materials that can be readily converted 
to explosive use. This principle should be the basis for our 
negotiations in the suppliers group where we will then be able to 
say we not only advocate it but illustrate it. The general principle 
has implications spelled out in many more detailed policy 

2. Delay for at least 5 or 10 years any decision to separate 
plutonium in the United States. 

3. Press actively for fuel cycle designs which would eliminate 
access to highly enriched uranium or chemically separated 
plutonium in power reactors and research reactors. Up to now, 
this has not been part of any design criterion. 

4. Continue to deny export licenses for isotope enrichment 
facilities and plutonium separation plants. 

5. Provide to any non-weapon state low-enriched uranium 
services at nondiscriminatory prices provided that the importer 
agrees (a) not to acquire further enrichment facilities or plutonium 
separation facilities, (b) to place all its nuclear facilities under 
IAEA safeguards, (c) not to acquire nuclear explosives, and (d) 
not to acquire fissile material quickly convertible to explosive 
use. We should make new commitments for the sale of nuclear 
technology only under these conditions. Though we have no 
shortage of enrichment capacity, it may be prudent to expand our 
enrichment capacity because it is critical for exercising control, 
and for assuring supplies of low-enriched uranium to importers 
who live up to their agreements. We should alter our perverse 
enrichment policy which has done much to create the appearance 
of a shortage of uranium and of enrichment. We should first 
start to reduce our $8 billion stock of natural and low-enriched 
uranium; second, permit customers to cancel or defer dates for 
delivering uranium to be enriched; and third, start operating 
our enrichment plants, subject to capacity constraints, so as to 
minimize the amount of uranium needed to produce nuclear fuel 
for our customers. 

6. Where we supply low-enriched uranium to non-weapon 
states, either lease it or otherwise arrange for its return. (The Soviet 
Union apparently does this.) Spent fuel so returned would make 


up a small percentage of the enormous radioactive wastes from 
our military program and our own domestic power program. 

7. In the future, when centrifuge or laser separation facilities 
might otherwise become widespread, consider transfers of 
enrichment technology to an international or multinational 
center that would provide only low-enriched uranium (and not 
plutonium fuel) services to non-weapon states. However, do not 
encourage plutonium separation in such centers with or without 
the fabrication of mixed plutonium and uranium oxide fuel. If 
such centers shipped out separated plutonium to non-weapon 
states, it would be immediately available for explosives. And 
plutonium is much more easily separated chemically from fresh 
unirradiated mixed oxide fuel than from spent fuel. Low-enriched 
uranium is not an explosive. Plutonium separated from reactor 
fuel is. 

8. Deny further assistance for critical experiments in national 
laboratories of non-weapon states, since these experiments 
involve access to unirradiated or only lightly irradiated, readily 
fissionable material. Where warranted, provide for U.S. or 
possibly multinational or international facilities for the conduct of 
critical experiments by non-weapon states. 

9. Deny licenses for the export to non-weapon states 
of research reactors with highly enriched uranium cores or 
significant plutonium output unless the total nuclear program for 
an importing country will not permit it to derive enough readily 
fissionable materials for weapons. 

10. Change Export-Import Bank policy so that its loans and 
the private loans it guarantees will support rather than defeat the 
preceding recommendations. 

11. Offer further financial and technical assistance to IAEA 
to improve safeguards, but alter trilateral agreements to permit 
and require IAEA to report on the location, size, and chemical 
and physical composition of all stocks of readily fissionable 
material monitored under these agreements. The improvements 
in IAEA inspection to detect violations will be useful if, and only 
if, export agreements are altered so that accumulating readily 
fissionable material becomes a violation, whether accounted for 
or not. Presently, IAEA centers its attention on the "limits of error 
in material unaccounted for" ("LEMUF" in the jargon) without 
reporting on the legal accumulation of explosive materials. 

The best maxim to keep in mind is that of Florence Nightingale: 
"Whatever else hospitals do, they shouldn't spread disease." On 
these complex issues it has been all too easy to advance resounding 


programs to slow the spread of weapons which actually speed 
it. That is how we got into the present fix. So Atoms for Peace, 
and so some of the incompatible clauses of the NPT. Using the 
eighteenth century language of natural law from our Declaration 
of Independence, the NPT asserts the "inalienable right" of all 
countries to peaceful nuclear energy — which includes, some 
exporters apparently feel, reprocessing. We have then the new 
natural right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plutonium. 

And now most recently each side in the last presidential 
campaign showed how the multinational form can distract from 
substance in slowing the spread. Each sometimes contemplated 
not only the return of spent uranium fuel but using multinational 
centers for making and distributing fresh mixed plutonium and 
uranium oxide fuels. Yet, plutonium for use in explosives is 
much more easily extracted from the fresh mixed oxides than 
from the spent uranium fuel. The word "multinational" tends 
to give many opponents of the spread a warm feeling all over, 
unless it is followed immediately by the word "corporation." But 
this cure would simply spread the disease. Here it is essential to 
focus our aim precisely on the substance rather than the symbol. 
Multinational centers for the distribution of bomb material will 
not help. 

ENDNOTES - Wohlstetter - Spreading the Bomb 

1. Isotopes of the same heavy element, such as uranium-235 
and uranium-238, undergo the same chemical reactions at almost 
the same reaction rates and therefore cannot be separated by 
any known conventional chemical means, but so far only by an 
expensive, difficult, and time-consuming physical process that 
exploits slight differences in atomic mass. The fissile isotopes are 
those that are readily fissionable by slow or thermal neutrons as 
well as fast neutrons. 

2. U.S. Senate, Committee on Government Operations, 
Hearings on S. 1439. testimony by Robert J. McCloskey, 
Department of State, June 16, 1976, p. 811. 

3. Indeed, we attached a "related note" to our agreement with 
Spain of March 20, 1974, which said, "It is understood that the 
material subject thereto will not be used for any nuclear explosive 
device, regardless of how the device itself is intended to be 
used. . . ." We signed the note, but Spain did not. 


4. For a more extended analysis, see Chapter III of Moving 
Toward Life in a 'Nuclear Armed Crowd? a Pan Heuristics report to 
the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. A revised edition 
will be published by the University of Chicago Press. 

5. For example, it said "... the development of more ingenious 
methods . . . which might make this material effectively usable is 
not only dubious, but is certainly not possible without a very major 
scientific and technical effort" (pp. 26-27), but also unequivocally 
that "the limit between what is safe and what is dangerous . . . will 
not stay fixed" in "what is sure to be a rapidly changing technical 
situation" (p. 30). U.S. Department of State, Publication 2497, 
March 16, 1946. 

6. The committee included Oppenheimer and C. A. Thomas, 
who among the authors of the Acheson-Lilienthal Report were 
the two qualified to speak on the subject. Its statement was issued 
on April 9, 1946. 

7. The ambivalence and inconsistency were present at the 
start. Like Szilard, who had been cautious about denaturing a 
few months earlier, Glenn Seaborg, whose team had discovered 
plutonium in 1941, signed the final draft of the Franck Report 
which stated flatly that "denaturalization of pure fissionable 
isotopes . . . [would] make them useless for military purposes." 
Yet Seaborg, commenting on early drafts, had written, "Can't 
denature 49 by dilution with stable isotopes." "Forty-nine" was 
the wartime code for the element 94, plutonium. The James Franck 
papers. University of Chicago Regenstein Library. 

8. "Nuclear Experts Give Warning on Build-up of Untreated 
Waste Fuel," The Times, London, May 25, 1975. 

9. Guy Hawtin, "East Bloc Aids Bonn Anti-Nuclear Groups," 
Financial Times, London, May 22, 1976. 

10. Address by Louis de Guiringaud, June 19, 1976, New York: 
Service de Presse et d'lnformation, 1976, No. 76/95, p. 3. In September 
1976 the French cabinet reconsidered such dangers, though not as 
a result of any clear message from the State Department. Michel 
Tatu, Le Monde, September 9, 1976. 


11. Lecture entitled, "The Fuel Cycle and the Export Situation," 
by Dr. G. Hildebrand, to visiting embassy representatives at the 
Kraftwerk Union plant in Miilheim, West Germany, on April 30, 

12. "Spent Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste," Statens 
Offentlige Utredningar, Document No. 32, Stockholm: 
Libervorlag, 1976, p. 43. 

13. Carl Walske, "Nuclear Energy Environment in the United 
States," a paper presented at a conference in Madrid, Spain, May 
4, 1976. 

14. The Atomic Industrial Forum's Committee on Nuclear 
Export Policy, U.S. Nuclear Export Policy, July 21, 1976, p. 3. 

15. Letter to Congressman Findley from Denis M. Neill, 
Assistant Administrator for Legal Affairs, Agency for International 
Development, Department of State, August 18, 1975. 

16. The spent fuel had 13 kg of plutonium that was 95 percent, 
110 kg that was 93 percent, and 331 kg that was 89 percent purely 

17. Hildebrand, op. cit. 

18. Memorandum from Oppenheimer to Farrell and Parsons, 
23 July 1945, Top Secret; Manhattan Engineering District Papers, 
Box 14, Folder 2, Record Group 77, Modern Military Records, 
National Archives, Washington, DC. Declassified in 1974. 

19. Memorandum to the Chief of Staff by General Leslie 
Groves, 30 July 1945. Ibid., Box 3, Folder 5B. Declassified in 

20. See Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar F. Anderson, Jr., The New 
World, 1939/1946, Volume I, A History of the United States Atomic 
Energy Commission, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State 
University Press, 1962, p. 321. 

21. See, e.g., Walske, op. cit., and Hildebrand, op. cit. 


22. "GWe" means gigawatts, that is, thousands of megawatts 
of electrical capacity. 

23. Estimates of uranium requirements vary with precise 
assumptions as to the percentage of uranium-235 left in the tailings 
by the process of enrichment, the rate of growth in reactors, the 
capacity factor or percentage of time the reactors are generating 
electricity; and such technical characteristics of reactor operation 
as fuel enrichment levels, fuel burnup levels, and frequency of 
reloads. These earlier estimates assume 80 percent capacity 
factors. The 1976 forecast assumes a 70 percent capacity factor. I 
assume .2 percent tails assay throughout. 

24. John Patterson, chief of the Supply Evaluation 
Branch, Division of Fuel Cycle Production, "Uranium Supply 
Developments," a paper presented at the Atomic Industrial Forum 
Fuel Cycle Conference, Phoenix, Arizona, March 22, 1976. More 
recently ERDA has estimated an "attainable" U.S. production 
capacity of 47,000 tons of yellow cake at the $15 cost level by 1985 
and 60,000 tons by about 1990. According to Nucleonics Week, 
September 23, 1976, ERDA summed up, "The information we 
have today indicates that there is a good possibility that uranium 
will be available at reasonable prices." 

25. End 1976 estimates are taken from Nuclear News, "World 
List of Nuclear Power Plants," August 1976, pp. 66-79. 

26. See U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Economics, Review 
and Update of Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder 
Reactor, May 27, 1976, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing 
Office, 1976, p. 18. 

27. Financial Times, London, December 9, 1975. American loss 
estimates by R. Cornell of E. F. Hutton. 

28. Chemical Engineering, January 6, 1975, p. 68. 

29. Nucleonics Week, July 22, 1976, p. 8. 

30. On ERDA's projections the plutonium then available from 


light water reactor fuel will be over three times more than the 
amount needed by breeders at the end of the century. Moreover, 
even ERDA's low growth projections for the breeder presume an 
unrealistically early and rapid build-up of commercial breeders. 


The Buddha Smiles: 
U.S. Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb (1978) 

A Summary 

Roberta Wohlstetteri 

From Albert Wohlstetter, Victor Gilinsky, Robert Gillette 
and Roberta Wohlstetter, eds., Nuclear Policies: Fuel 
without the Bomb, Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing 
Co., 1978, pp. 57-72. Courtesy of the Wohlstetter Estate. 
The unabridged version of this report is available from 


The Indians decided in 1956 to produce and separate plu- 
tonium long before they decided to make a nuclear explosive. So 
did the British, and so did the French. The Indians had separated 
plutonium in their Phoenix reprocessing plant by 1965, years 
before they had any power reactors in operation, and the decision 
to separate plutonium had no persuasive economic justification. 
It was tied to plans in the 1950s for developing an Indian breeder 
reactor that is still remote in the 1970s. However, India's plans to 
produce plutonium, with only a tenuous and vague relation to a 
realistic program of power production, were not very different 
from the vague expectations of the United States and the United 
Kingdom in the 1940s and the 1950s about the utility and even the 
necessity of plutonium in the production of electric power. 

Whether or not Indian plutonium ever became important 
in the generation of electricity, the separated plutonium would 
carry India most of the way toward a nuclear explosive. The same 
would be true for any country acquiring substantial amounts of 
separated plutonium. Neither our export policy nor that of any 
other country had recognized this fact, or seriously tried to cope 
with its consequences, until President Ford's Statement on Nuclear 
Policy of October 28, 1976. 

First Steps to a Bomb 

It appears on the basis of public evidence that sometime in late 
1964 Prime Minister Shastri had given Homi Bhabha, the director 


of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (lAEC), permission 
to reduce the critical time needed to make a nuclear explosive. 
Bhabha had stated some time before his death early in 1966 that 
India could make a bomb in eighteen months, and by the spring of 
1966 some Indians were claiming it could be done in six months. 
Evidently Shastri's permission set in motion work on design of an 
explosive system and preparation for testing of the nonnuclear 
components. This preliminary activity would still leave open the 
question as to whether India would assemble a nuclear explosive, 
and also the question of whether, with the explosive at hand, India 
would choose to detonate it. Shastri's private relaxation of his 
public stance was motivated primarily by concern about China, 
and the decision to go ahead with military components was given 
greater impetus by the withdrawal of American military aid in 
the fall of 1965.2 

Shrinking Critical Time Versus Preserving the Option 

India illustrates that, with cumulating changes that shrink the 
critical time, only a minor event is needed to tip the decision in 
the timing for exploding a nuclear device: for example, a mere 
"tilt" toward Pakistan by the United States rather than a reversal 
of alliance, or a need for a distraction from transient domestic 
economic troubles such as a railroad strike. The basic decision to 
come close to making a bomb has to do with more fundamental, 
long-term interests. 

One frequently talks of a given government trying to preserve 
the option to become a military nuclear power. But the phrase 
is misleading. A sovereign government cannot surrender such 
an option in perpetuity, even if it renounces the possibility with 
fewer qualifications than in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). 
It can always change its mind and, starting from where it stands 
in nuclear technology, proceed to get weapons. The Indian case, 
however, illustrates the more important phenomenon, namely, 
that a government can, without overtly proclaiming that it 
is going to make bombs (and while it says and possibly even 
means the opposite), undertake a succession of programs that 
progressively reduce the amount of time needed to make nuclear 
explosives, when and if it decides on that course. This can be done 
consciously or unconsciously, with a fixed purpose of actually 
exploding a device or deferring that decision until later. But it 
is more than holding out the option. It involves steady progress 
toward a nuclear explosive. 


The Indian program also illustrates the linkage of decisions 
among antagonists to get nuclear explosives, and also the fact that 
the linkage is not a mechanical phenomenon but is related to a 
network of competing national interests and domestic factions. 
The Chinese nuclear explosion in October 1964 followed the Sino- 
Indian conflict in 1962, which itself had been a flaring into the 
open of the rivalry between the two Asian powers previously 
smothered in the rhetoric of coexistence. The Chinese explosion 
generated a policy debate among Indian domestic factions that 
led more or less steadily to a nuclear explosion nearly ten years 
later. The beginnings of the nuclear explosive program were 
clearly visible for at least eight years. The Indian explosion in 
turn, following Pakistan's disasters in the 1971 war, may confirm 
Pakistan's decision to get nuclear explosives, "even if," as Prime 
Minister Bhutto said, "we have to eat grass. "^ The consequences 
of both the Chinese and Indian explosions involved not only such 
direct links, but a more generalized lowering of the taboo. 

The Rhetoric of Peace and Economic Development 

The rhetorical separation, as if in a dichotomy, of peaceful 
and military uses of nuclear energy, as well as the rhetorical 
identification of investments in civilian nuclear energy with 
economic development and catching up with the advanced 
countries, form a substantial part of the background of cumulative 
changes that made India's nuclear explosive program easier. 

The identification of civilian nuclear energy with economic 
progress is sometimes made in self-consciously symbolic terms 
with no pretense at hard economic argument, but merely as 
an invocation to modernity. Nuclear technology, it is said, 
is the most important or most characteristic development of 
the present age — the "nuclear age." Therefore it becomes the 
essential component for catching up with the advanced countries, 
from which India and other less developed countries have only 
recently been liberated. Dr. Bhabha, the first director of India's 
nuclear energy program, argued steadily in this vein against the 
economic arguments of Francis Perrin, I. M. D. Little, and others. 
He was aided by the rhetoric of Atoms for Peace, and his early 
implementation of the Indian civilian nuclear program found 
strong support in the U.S. Agency for International Development 
(USAID) and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC) of the 
1950s as part of a general and generous U.S. policy to aid Third 
World development. 


The Rhetoric of Disarmament 

The Indians also use the rhetoric of nuclear disarmament 
and "general and comprehensive" disarmament as ultimately 
justifying their production of nuclear bombs: (a) nuclear 
armament would put them in a powerful position to argue for 
nuclear disarmament (a standard argument by intending nuclear 
powers), and (b) the only alternative to India's nuclear armament 
is unattainable, namely, the disarmament of the superpowers 
and of their own major antagonist China. Indian rhetoric here 
exploits the insincerities and the hopes expressed in the rhetoric 
of the weapons powers themselves. Off-the-record interviews at 
crucial periods make plain, however, that Indian officials would 
put no trust even in an agreement by China to disarm totally. 
No such promise to disarm will substitute for an Indian nuclear 
weapons program because, they say, there is no way of verifying 
the nonexistence of Chinese bombs in the vastness of China's 

This is the reality underlying India's part of the debate on 
Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty. 

In spite of the long gestation period, when the Indians were 
plainly moving toward a nuclear explosive, U.S. experts both 
inside and outside the government have tended to take Indian 
arms control rhetoric at face value. One excellent student of 
proliferation (Harold Feiveson) reported in 1973, shortly before 
the explosion, on a consensus of U.S. experts that the Indians 
would not explode a nuclear device. 

National Sovereignty in the Less Developed Countries 

Frequently in arms control negotiations we think of 
countries like India as hostile to any surrender of sovereignty in 
an alliance, but as quite willing to accept limitations by a truly 
universal international authority. The Indians, as they prepared 
their nuclear program, were sedulous attendees at Pugwash 
conferences, as well as highly vocal participants in the Eighteen- 
Nation Disarmament Committee. However, it is apparent that 
India, like many other less developed countries, has been among 
the most jealous of surrendering any part of its sovereignty to 
an international inspectorate. It has fought against potential 
harassment by IAEA inspectors and used some of the indirectness 


of the trilateral relationship to keep as much freedom of action as 
possible, and specifically freedom from restrictions imposed by 
suppliers. Its agreement on nuclear cooperation with the United 
States and the IAEA is unique in that safeguards apply only to the 
enriched uranium fuel supplied by the United States and not to 

Ambiguities, Ambivalence, and Sanctions 

The ambiguities of agreements on the Indian nuclear program 
are central to the problem. Did the Indians violate any agreement 
in literal terms? Even if they have not violated the exact terms of 
an agreement, or even if they can argue that they did not, did their 
actions represent a dangerous shrinking of critical time? 

The U.S. government has made clear since 1966 that there 
is no distinction between a peaceful and a military explosive. 
But the Indians act as if the nonexclusive "and/or" were in fact 
a dichotomous "either military or peaceful, but not both." This 
poses problems for sanctions. 

Precisely because Indian behavior did not overtly and 
plainly violate the letter of agreements as the Indians chose to 
construe them, the decision to impose sanctions was vulnerable 
to arguments that the sanctions imposed costs not only on the In- 
dians but on the United States as well. U.S. suppliers were heavily 
involved, following the spirit of the original open-handed Atoms 
for Peace program and later of Article IV of the Nonproliferation 
Treaty, which promised "the fullest possible exchange" to help 
civilian nuclear energy programs. (Even though Article IV was 
directed especially at parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty, it 
also stipulated "due consideration for the needs of the developing 
areas of the world." And though the rights and duties under 
Article IV are limited by the obligation in Article I, "not in any way 
to assist non-nuclear weapons states to manufacture or otherwise 
acquire . . . nuclear explosive devices," many nonnuclear weapons 
states in this context conveniently forget Article I and the fact 
that this is a nonproliferation treaty, not a nuclear development 
treaty.) The machinery of grant aid and concessionary loans was 
nowhere more utilized than in the Indian case. In its agreement 
with India the United States also undertook various obligations 
to send enriched uranium for reloads frequently enough to 
keep the reactors operating, and to provide continuing technical 
assistance. These are contingent, of course, upon India's fulfilling 


its own obligations. However, if India does not do so, and if 
the United States stops assistance, it does so at some domestic 
cost to American business. At the very least American business 
will be smaller than if we take a relaxed view of the customer's 
obligation to eschew nuclear activities with a potential for military 

Besides American business, there might also be objections 
from members of the relevant congressional committees and 
the media, who would feel, after the so-called Pakistani tilt, that 
the U.S. government was picking on India. Other factors also 
reinforce the reluctance to impose sanctions: some members of 
the U.S. bureaucracy think that the Indians were right; some were 
involved in negotiating the original agreements with all their 
ambiguities; and some, as always, find it pleasanter to distribute 
rewards rather than punishments and dislike being cast in the role 
of "heavy," perhaps especially with respect to a less developed 
country that seems intermittently to be on the brink of famine, 
and find the specter of responsibility for bringing on such a 
famine hard to live with. For example, a breakdown in electric 
power might decrease fertilizer production, which in turn might 
affect the crops in Gujarat. 

Although the United States had and continues to have 
considerable leverage in the continuing Indian need for help from 
General Electric when India runs into trouble with operating 
the boiling-water reactors at Tarapur, and in the Indian need 
for slightly enriched uranium, heavy water, and other supplies, 
it is easy to understand why we have been reluctant to use the 

U.S. Ambivalence 

There is in any case an ambivalence in U.S. policy. We have 
been against proliferation in general, but not necessarily in 
particular. Nonproliferation is only one of a number of foreign 
policy goals, and those who stress it excessively tend to be regarded 
as fanatics, "one-issue men." If in fact the occasions for application 
of sanctions are blurred by ambiguity, and the effectiveness of 
the sanctions themselves seems weakened because we no longer 
hold a monopoly on the services we might threaten to withhold, 
and because our influence over other suppliers is limited, policy is 
likely to be affected by a feeling of the inevitability of the spread. 
From there it is a short step to reviving the comforting doctrines. 


popular especially in the late Fifties, that the spread would not be 
so bad anyway. If we do not actually enjoy it, we might at least 

Our own ambivalence and that of other supplier countries 
and the implicit rivalries among them make for a failure to press 
for very clear bilateral understanding as to what is proscribed. 
Canadian and U.S. temporizing in the mid-1960s illustrates 
this point. Unilateral understandings, no matter how explicitly 
transmitted, are no substitute. Trudeau's plain talk to Indira 
Gandhi is one example. Mrs. Gandhi was not talking — and not 
listening either. Canada's recent decision to stop aid on the RAPP 
II reactor has finally drawn a clear line between safe and dangerous 
activities. Its actions clearly say that a nuclear explosive is not 
exclusively peaceful. 

The U.S. intelligence function is weakened by the fact that it 
is not very clear about what should be looked for (a violation? a 
legitimate activity that is "unsafe"?) and whether there is much 
point in looking for it, for there may be no clear policy to do 
something with the information and no urgent need expressed 
in advance. May 18, 1974, marks a failure to clarify our policy on 
response more than a failure of intelligence. 

Nuclear Versus Conventional Forces 

The Indian program proceeded slowly over a very extended 
period under a nominal cover, but with many obvious indications 
that India intended at least to explode a device and get a few 
primitive weapons. Partly because of this manner of proceeding, 
the Indians are a long way from having a serious nuclear capability 
against their major adversary, China. Moreover, they suffer from 
many geographical strategic asymmetries for this purpose. It is 
conceivable that they may proceed with a missile program at 
the same stately pace. On the other hand, they do have sizable 
ambitions in the world strategic environment (the title of their 
defense journal is India in ike World Strategic Environment). Though 
extremely poor on a per capita basis, the country is large enough 
to have a gross national product that can support a substantial 
military program, and possibly in the future a much more 
extensive military program than a simple last-resort capability 
usable only in response to an overwhelming conventional attack 
and with little hope of surviving nuclear attack. It might even go 
for a blue-water navy. 


The Indian conventional forces have been considerably 
strengthened. The military in the mid-Sixties plainly regarded 
nuclear weapons as a rival to such conventional expansion and 
therefore did not support it. But as such conflicts frequently are 
resolved, the military got its conventional expansion and the 
Foreign Office and the Atomic Energy Department got their 
nuclear explosives, with consequent increasing military support 
for the nuclear program. An expanded military nuclear program 
might in the future get wide general support. 

Nonalignment and joint and Individual Guarantees 

The Indians continued to maintain a nonaligned stance in 
the mid-Sixties long after the conflict with China and regional 
antagonisms had transformed the meaning of nonalignment. 
Nonetheless, it made them reluctant to try to get an unequivocal 
unilateral guarantee from the United States, which might appear 
to line them up with the United States. They actively sought a 
joint guarantee from the Soviet Union and the United Slates, even 
though some high officials recognized that such guarantees among 
potential adversaries are worth considerably less than alliance 
guarantees. In the end the Nonproliferation Treaty was followed 
by an extremely weak statement of guarantee by the weapons 
states that they would take "appropriate action" according to the 
decision of the U.N. Security Council. When the treaty was passed 
in the Security Council, India as well as France abstained, though 
it was the end point of a sequence of actions seeking a guarantee 
in which India had played a leading role. 


This case history has implications (a) for decisions on future 
U.S. cooperation with India itself and these are of course the policy 
choices most directly illuminated; and (b) for the choice of policies 
for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries as 
well as India, and this more general application of the U.S. -Indian 
experience is perhaps even more important.* 

Some causal connection naturally exists between the policy we 
adopt toward India in the future and the influence we can exercise 
on other countries. Our policy toward India sends a message to 
other countries that may be more persuasive than declaratory 


statements about the rewards and penalties for actions that might 
violate the letter or spirit of our antiproliferation policy. But even 
apart from this direct effect of our Indian policy on our policies 
elsewhere, it is apparent that the sequence of events leading 
up to the Indian explosion in May 1974 had a widespread and 
immediately recognized significance as a major challenge to 
policies that had been directed at transferring nuclear technology 
for peaceful uses only while discouraging or preventing its 
military application. In the four years since the Indian explosion 
international awareness of this challenge has deepened. It has 
not, as some expected, dissipated. In fact, in spite of all that has 
been written about the Indian nuclear program, the implications 
of its history are not yet widely understood. Yet they are directly 
relevant for much of the current debate on nuclear export policy. 

Stopping Drifting Governments vs. Stopping Governments That Are 
Committed from the Start 

It is frequently argued today that there is no point in 
constraining exports of plutonium separation plants or uranium 
enrichment facilities or even in limiting exports of plutonium or 
highly enriched uranium themselves. There is no point, and it 
may even be bad, the argument runs, because almost any country 
committed to getting nuclear weapons can get them by itself, 
for example by designing and building a production reactor.^ 
After such a facility (say, a simplified version of the Brookhaven 
Graphite Research Reactor taking four or five years to build 
and using natural uranium) is fully operational, it will produce 
plutonium in the spent fuel that might yield material for one or 
two bombs a year.* Such a country could also design and build a 
reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from the irradiated 
fuel rods.^ If we do not export facilities for producing such highly 
concentrated fissile materials or the materials themselves to such 
countries that are intent on getting nuclear weapons, we will 
compel them, it is said, to do it on their own. It would be better 
for the United States to supply these under safeguards. 

This line of reasoning, which is sometimes buttressed by a 
reference to the Indian example, has many weaknesses. In fact, 
an examination of the Indian experience reveals a key flaw in 
the argument. It is essential to consider not merely governments 
that have made up their minds to get nuclear weapons and to get 
them perhaps at any cost. That list is likely to be very small indeed 


at the present time, as it has been in the past. More important is 
the much larger list of governments that at any given time have 
not made up their minds at all, or that have not even seriously 
considered a nuclear weapons program, or that have considered 
it and quite sincerely rejected it. 

That larger list is the one that policy must principally address: 
the countries that can drift toward a military capability without 
any intention of arriving at it, and yet that may adopt a civilian 
program that ultimately places them within days of acquiring 
material for nuclear explosives. The Indian experience illuminates 
that process of drifting toward a bomb. Canadian and U.S. help — 
transfers of facilities, equipment and material, advisory scientific 
and engineering services, training of Indian personnel, financial 
subsidies and loans — formed a major ingredient of the Indian 
program that was shortening critical time to make an explosive. 
And this help was given before and after the Indians revealed 
a strong interest in nuclear explosives. It continued after the 
time when Indian officials were formally and informally issuing 
statements that the Indian nuclear program had shortened the 
time remaining before they could get an explosive, and while the 
time announced was growing shorter and shorter. 

During this period both the United States and Canada made 
public announcements indicating that "exclusively peaceful 
applications" excluded by definition explosives of any kind, 
and the Canadians made many private reminders of this point. 
However, in advance of the actual Indian explosion, neither 
Canada nor the United States insisted that the Indians themselves 
publicly agree with them, and still less did either government 
demand that India eschew forms of nuclear research and nuclear 
electric power activity that would provide them with stocks of 
plutonium or simple compounds of it, and thus bring them closer 
to a nuclear explosive. Nor did the United States or Canada ever 
explicitly say that stocking plutonium was illegitimate. 

Canada waited until after the explosion to insist on India's 
disavowal of a nuclear explosive program, and it was only in 1976 
that both governments indicated that civilian activities involving 
stocks of plutonium might themselves have to be banned. The 
latter course of action finally faces up to the question of stopping 
a drift toward the bomb by countries not yet committed. 


Current Pure Intentions Are Not Enough 

A point closely related to the preceding one is also clearly 
confirmed by the Indian experience: The fact that a government 
receiving nuclear transfers has the purest of motives at the time 
of receipt, that it intends to use this aid solely for purposes of 
advancing civilian electric power, and that it abhors nuclear 
weapons, offers no assurance that it will not change its mind, and 
provides no warrant therefore for favored treatment in granting 
aid which will shorten the time to make an explosive. Because 
such aid makes it technically easier and cheaper to get nuclear 
weapons and means that the progress toward nuclear weapons 
can be more ambiguous, or concealed, and politically less risky, it 
also facilitates a change in intention responding to new external 
or internal pressures. Only a policy that restricts the forms of 
nuclear energy (in research or in production of nuclear power) to 
those that exclude national control of highly concentrated fissile 
material can deal with future intentions to make nuclear weapons 
and make it less likely that present good intentions will change. 

This particular lesson is relevant today to the situation of 
several countries (Japan, Sweden, West Germany) whose current 
intentions are on all the evidence exemplary, but whose programs 
of nuclear cooperation with us and other suppliers involve an 
accumulation of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. 

"Safeguards" are Necessary but Not Sufficient 

Bilateral and international safeguard systems are essentially 
arrangements for accounting and inspection. They are intended 
to deter bomb manufacture by assuring early warning and 
permitting timely counteraction.* The Indians resisted safeguards 
with very substantial, though partial success. Some of their 
facilities are not or will not be safeguarded at all, even though 
they involve technology that is at least directly descended from 
some Canadian and U.S. imports: for example, the heavy-water 
reactors under construction at Madras. Other facilities given 
them by Canada and materials given them by the United States, 
though restricted to peaceful uses, were unsafeguarded: so 
CIRUS and the U.S. heavy water used in it. Nonetheless even if 
this unfortunate laxity had been avoided, safeguards would not 
have been effective in fulfilling the purpose of providing timely 
warning, if the Indians had been permitted to separate plutonium. 


to fabricate it into mixed plutonium and uranium oxide fuel and 
in the course of these activities, to stock significant quantities 
of plutonium or simple compounds of it under their control for 
use either in electric power or research. To prevent the sudden 
manufacture of a nuclear explosive without warning requires not 
only safeguards on essentially all research and power facilities 
that could contribute substantially to the eventual accumulation 
of fissile material, but restrictions on the accumulation itself. 

The mixed plutonium and uranium oxide fuel requirements 
implied by such extensive nuclear electric power programs as 
those of Japan, Spain, and many other countries that do not have 
nuclear weapons today are very large, and the plutonium or 
simple compounds of it (such as mixed plutonium and oxide fuel) 
are very quickly usable in an explosive. Any attempt therefore to 
limit the working stocks of such plutonium under national control 
to an amount that would be strategically insignificant is bound 
to be unacceptable. Such restrictions would make these countries 
much more dependent and their reactor operations much more 
liable to interruption than they are presently or would be with 
slightly enriched uranium fuel. 

Fresh low enriched uranium stocks under national control 
are more likely to be susceptible to limitations satisfying both the 
user's desire for adequate working stocks and the international 
community's desire to keep stocks of highly concentrated 
fissionable material out of the hands of non-weapon states. It is 
also true that international control and also close, even continuous 
inspection of spent uranium fuel would intrude less into the 
essential operation of reactors. 

Policy Toward Countries That Make Nuclear Explosives in Spite of an 
Agreement to Restrict Nuclear Activities to Peaceful Uses Only 

The Indians used a facility given by Canada and some U.S. 
heavy water to make and test a nuclear explosive. They did this 
in both cases under a peaceful uses-only agreement, and the U.S. 
State Department makes clear that our agreements had always 
intended to exclude such a development.' Nonetheless we are 
faced with the fact that, whatever our or their good intentions, 
they have produced at least one nuclear explosive. What should 
be our course of action? 

On one side it can be argued that the damage is done. India 
has carried through the program, and we might just as well, as 


in the case of the French, acknowledge the fact and treat India 
as a full-fledged member of the club, along with the preceding 
five members. Or we might reduce our embarrassment somewhat 
by accepting India's distinction between peaceful and military 
explosives and, to preserve the fiction, provide them, so to speak, 
with only an associate membership in the club. If we do not do so, 
India can go ahead with its own program, having advanced so far, 
and moreover, as a potential supplier of nuclear technology, India 
could proceed to help other countries to follow in its footsteps 
with a nuclear explosive program. There is no point simply in 
punishing India, and encouraging it to be irresponsible. 

On the other hand, such arguments, though tempting, have 
disturbing implications for future aspirants to nuclear weapons. 
For what it will suggest to them is that we will oppose their getting 
nuclear weapons and even threaten dire consequences if they do, 
but should they be successful in ignoring our opposition and our 
threats, we will never execute the threats, and never impose any 
sanctions, but only reward them with membership or associate 
membership in the club. If in addition we permit civilian activities 
that bring countries close to manufacture of nuclear explosives 
in any case, then the interval of unpleasant opposition from us 
before we reward them will be gratefully short. The truth is that 
we oversimplify when we say that "the damage is done" as soon 
as a country explodes a nuclear device. Much more damage will 
be done if we do nothing to make the country regret its action. 
This is especially true if there has been a violation of the sense of 
an agreement. But even for those few countries that have never 
disavowed an interest in nuclear bombs, we should make clear 
in advance that in case they do, success will not be met by a 
welcoming committee. It will cost them something. 

Policy Towards Countries That Do Not Disavow Intentions to Make 
Nuclear Explosives, "Peaceful" or Otherwise 

There are about a half-dozen countries of importance that have 
refused to ratify the NPT or to make a separate statement that they 
will forgo even "peaceful" nuclear explosives (India, Pakistan, 
Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Egypt). The Indian case illustrates the 
dangers of continuing nuclear cooperation with such countries 
and remaining content with unilateral statements to the effect 
that such nuclear cooperation is premised on the recipient's not 
making nuclear explosives at all or at least not making them with 


the aid furnished in a specific U.S. nuclear agreement. I believe 
that U.S. policy should refuse nuclear cooperation unless these 
countries give up nuclear explosives altogether, and not just 
nuclear explosives made using our help. This means no slightly 
enriched uranium, no heavy water, no reactor sales, no advisory 
services, no nuclear transfers of any sort. 

A Policy for Both India and Pakistan 

Indian military concern centered primarily on China rather 
than Pakistan, and in fact as distinct from rhetoric, not at all 
on a threat from the two superpowers. Indian arguments in 
international forums about superpower disarmament were in 
good part a way of justifying India's own armament and nuclear 
explosive program. The Indians were interested in help from the 
superpowers against China, and superpower disarmament was 
rather irrelevant or inconsistent with that goal. Although they 
have made constant reference to the evils of vertical proliferation 
from the mid-Sixties on, the evidence suggests that this was 
merely a debating point. It is, moreover, doubtful that substantial 
superpower disarmament would in general influence a country 
not to undertake a nuclear weapons program, if it is concerned 
about nuclear threats from other sources. 

The Indian experience confirms that countries that by choice 
or circumstance stand outside alliance systems are particularly 
liable to decide to make nuclear explosives, if it is easy for them 
to do so and if the international environment changes adversely. 
The Indians' cautious attempts to get nuclear guarantees jointly 
or separately from the United States and the Soviet Union yielded 
nothing very substantial, and U.S. conventional military assistance 
was withdrawn just about the time that Indian concern about the 
Chinese nuclear explosive program was most acute. A policy to 
discourage nuclear proliferation has to deal with legitimate or 
perceived military challenges, both direct and indirect, to the 
countries concerned. 

The new administration in India has begun with a rejection of 
nuclear weapons and an expression of doubt about the usefulness 
of "peaceful" nuclear explosives for India. Morarji Desai seems 
likely to be skeptical of the sort of technocratic idyll that has 
animated the nuclear energy program in India in general and 
that in particular might give some shred of plausibility to such 
dubious gadgetry as Plowshare.^" The nuclear bureaucracy in 


India has been most closely linked with the Congress Party, with 
Nehru and with Mrs. Gandhi. This is a particularly opportune 
time, then, to induce a revision in Indian thinking and to move it 
away from nuclear explosives. 

However, there are obstacles other than the Indian nuclear 
bureaucracy . First of all, our own nuclear industry and bureaucracy 
fostered many of the Indian positions on nuclear energy and 
rationalized them for the American Congress. A change in policy 
in India presupposes a very clear-cut change in American policy 
at the working level, as well as at the top. Second, India has some 
legitimate defense concerns, and insofar as it has any continuing 
worry about a Chinese nuclear threat, it may require some sort of 
assurance of help. For the United States to provide this assurance 
may be hard to manage. Third, India nonetheless has an interest in 
seeing to it that Pakistan, an irredentist power with respect to parts 
of India, and an adversary with whom India has been engaged 
several times in the short history of Indian independence, does 
not itself get nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that Pakistan 
has been powerfully moved to get nuclear explosives by India's 
own explosive program, and that Pakistan's desire to improve its 
conventional forces is motivated mainly by its adversary relation 
with India. 

All of this suggests that it is essential to try to use a formal 
abandonment of India's nuclear explosive program as a lever to 
get a similar commitment from Pakistan about nuclear explosives, 
and vice versa. And in a similar way, it is important to try to arrange 
for the simultaneous abandonment by Pakistan of its plans for a 
reprocessing plant and for the abandonment or indefinite deferral 
by India of its plans to reprocess spent fuel. 

We should assure India of nuclear material equivalent in 
amount to that which it might derive from reprocessing spent 
fuel. This equivalent would be in the form of natural or slightly 
enriched uranium. We should also offer to take back India's 
spent uranium fuel, and to lease rather than sell slightly enriched 
uranium fuel rods in the future. 

The plutonium content of the spent fuel has an uncertain value 
that will depend on the relative costs of deriving fissile material 
from spent fuel, compared to the costs of freshly mined uranium. 
It may have a negative value. We should offer India, if it likes, an 
equity interest in any use of its spent fuel to extract fissile material. 
That is, if in the future it is profitable to extract plutonium from 
spent fuel, we should give India a credit for the positive value 


of the plutonium as an offset for the cost of the slightly enriched 
uranium which we supply as a substitute. If this risky venture 
of reprocessing is nevertheless undertaken and there are losses, 
India, with an equity stake, would have a debit to add to the price 
of slightly enriched uranium. India should not be obliged to take 
the equity risk in reprocessing, but making it clear that India has 
the opportunity will make it clear also that it is highly uncertain 
that plutonium embodied in spent fuel has a positive value. 

If India does not explicitly disavow a nuclear explosive 
program, and if it does not accept full fuel-cycle safeguards, the 
United States should stop nuclear cooperation with India. 

If India does disavow nuclear explosives and accepts full 
fuel-cycle safeguards, we should supply it with slightly enriched 
uranium and heavy water only if it also agrees not to accumulate 
plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and not to maintain 
facilities that could quickly provide stockpiles of such highly 
concentrated fissile material. A more restricted immediate policy 
initiative would ask India to defer any further contracting into a 
program yielding stocks of highly concentrated fissile material, 
while we negotiate with it to provide equitable less dangerous 
substitutes for the highly concentrated fissile material or the 
facilities yielding it. 

ENDNOTES - Roberta Wohlstetter - The Buddha Smiles 

1. I want to thank Professor Albert Wohlstetter, as well as 
several participants in the seminar where this paper was first 
presented, in particular. Professor Robert Bacher of the California 
Institute of Technology, Professor Leo Rose of the University 
of California at Berkeley, and Professor Stanley Wolpert of the 
University of California at Los Angeles. 

2. For expansion and documentation of these points, see 
Chapter 5, "From Civilian Power to Military Power," in The Buddha 
Smiles: Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb, Monograph 
E-3, Los Angeles: Pan Heuristics, April 1977, available from www. Smiles. 

3. A statement by Bhutto in 1965 when he was Foreign Minister 
quoted by Patrick Keatley, The Guardian (London), March 11, 


4. I draw here on Albert Wohlstetter, The Spread of Nuclear 
Bombs: Predictions, Premises, Policies, Monograph E-1, Los Angeles: 
Pan Heuristics, November 1976, revised 1977. 

5. See for example the views of Peter Hermes, State Secretary 
of the Foreign Ministry, West Germany, and Hans-Hilger 
Haunschild, State Secretary of the Research and Technology 
Ministry, as summarized in Nucleonics Week, February 10, 1977, p. 

Bonn hopes that Washington will see the [Brazil-Ger- 
man] deal in a different light after a more detailed study 
of its safeguards, which as German government officials 
are quick to emphasize, go beyond those of the non-pro- 
liferation treaty. German philosophy is that a country re- 
ally wanting the nuclear bomb will get it anyway. The Bonn 
belief is that it is better to extend cooperation at a time 
when it is still possible to persuade the recipient country 
to accept international controls rather than turn down 
the threshold country's request for technology, letting 
it reach its nuclear goals through its own development 
work, without IAEA inspections. As it is, "the [German- 
supplied] Brazilian nuclear facilities will be fully subject 
to IAEA controls." 

See also C. Starr, W. Haefele, and E. Zebroski, draft paper on 
"Nuclear Power and Weapons Proliferation," March 1976; E. 
Zebroski, contribution to panel on "U.S. Nuclear Policy and 
International Security," California Seminar on Arms Control and 
Foreign Policy, December 7, 1976; and a 58-page Westinghouse 
study cited by Nucleonics Week, March 31, 1977, as showing that 
there are "multiple avenues" other than by way of LWR plutonium 
that can be followed by a "determined non-nuclear weapons state" 
(italics added). 

6. John Lamarsh, "Construction of Plutonium-Producing 
Reactors by Small and/ or Developing Nations," April 30, 1976, 
reproduced by the Library of Congress, Congressional Research 
Service, June 4, 1976. 

7. John Lamarsh, "On the Extraction of Plutonium from 


Reactor Fuel by Small and/ or Developing Nations," July 19, 1976, 
reproduced by the Library of Congress, Congressional Research 
Service, October 14, 1976. 

8. Laws and Regulations Governing 'Nuclear Exports and Domestic 
and International Nuclear Safeguards, Message from the President of 
the United States, May 6, 1975, Washington, DC: U.S. Government 
Printing Office, 1975, p. 35; General Alfred Starbird, Assistant 
Administrator for National Security, Energy Research and 
Development Agency, "Statement before the Senate Committee on 
Government Operations," January 29, 1976, in Hearing on S-1439: 
The Export Reorganization Act 1975, Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 
1976, p. 408; International Atomic Energy Agency, INFCIRC/153 
(1971); B. Sanders and R. Rometsch, "Safeguards against Use of 
Nuclear Materials for Weapons," Nuclear Engineering International, 
September 1975, p. 683; and Chapter 3 of Albert Wohlstetter et al. 
Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd? report to the Arms 
Control and Disarmament Agency, Los Angeles: Pan Heuristics, 
April 1976, p. 72. 

9. Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. Senate Committee on Government 
Operations, Hearings on S-1439, p. 811. 

10. Morarji Desai has been on record for some time against 
nuclear weapons for India. He is quoted as saying, "We can drive 
out any aggressor even without the bomb." He adds: "If China 
were to throw an atomic bomb on the Indian border, she would 
create an impenetrable barrier for herself." See Hari Ram Gupta, 
India-Pakistan War 1965, Vol. 2, Delhi, India: Hariyana Prakashan, 
p. 100. 

In his first public press conference since his election as Prime 
Minister he also expressed doubt as to whether a nuclear explosive 
program would be useful for India and advised returning to 
"cottage industry." See Morarji Desai, quoted by Newsweek, April 
4, 1977, p. 36. 


Signals, Noise and Article TV (1979) 

Albert Wohlstetter, Gregory S. Jones, and Roberta Wohlstetter 

Excerpted from "Why the Rules Have Needed Changing," 
in Towards a New Consensus on Nuclear Technology, Vol. 
1, Summary Report Prepared for U.S. Arms Control and 
Disarmament Agency, Los Angeles, CA: Pan Heuristics, 
July 6, 1979, pp. 32-45. Courtesy of the Wohlstetter Estate 
and Gregory S. Jones. The report from which this essay 
is excerpted is available from www. 

Military Signals and Civilian Noise 

The problem presented by the spread to many countries 
of civilian stocks of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, or 
facilities that could quickly produce these materials, is that such 
stocks would carry these countries so far along the path that leads 
also to nuclear explosives that from the moment that their military 
purpose became unambiguous, the additional time to get nuclear 
explosives would be too short for any feasible inspection system 
to provide timely warning. And timely warning, it has long been 
recognized, is the most that a feasible international inspection 
system can provide. The International Atomic Energy Agency 
(IAEA) has no police force. Moreover, one of the major factors 
affecting a government's decision to make a nuclear explosive 
will be not only the extra time from the point at which its military 
purpose becomes clear, but also the additional political risks and 
indeed the increment in resource costs above the costs expended 
for at least a plausibly pure civilian commercial activity. 

The timely warning concept is not an innovation recently 
thought up by President Ford near the end of his term in office. 
It is an essential part of what is meant by "effective safeguards." 
It was universally recognized as such in the 1940s when civilian 
nuclear power first came to be talked about seriously. It was 
intermittently forgotten in the 1950s but restored to a central 
place in the 1960s, and in particular when the IAEA began to 
elaborate its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguard 
system in detail. Safeguards do not mandate any penalties but 
only timely warning. That is what affords at least the possibility 
of counteraction. Without even timely warning, we would have 
little besides reminiscence. 


What is new so far as the public (and even many public 
officials) is concerned is the official acknowledgement^ in explicit 
quantitative terms that power reactor plutonium is not safe but 
can be used to make nuclear explosives reliably yielding 1 to 20 
kilotons in even a very simple implosion device. The implication 
immediately follows that the timely warning requirement 
precludes the accumulation of stocks of separated plutonium or 
simple compounds of it in non-weapon states. This should also 
remind us that the same preclusion applies even more obviously 
to highly enriched uranium. 

Since the central aim of "effective safeguards" as explicitly 
defined in the IAEA information circulars on NPT safeguards^ is 
timely warning, signals of a military program must be detected 
and identified early enough; but they must also be unambiguous 
enough, that is, stand out clearly enough from the noisy back- 
ground of civilian activity, to permit response either by interna- 
tional agencies, by regional allies, or by regional adversaries who 
have been relying on promises that the country observed will 
not acquire nuclear weapons. Programs and facilities overtly 
"dedicated" (to use the current jargon) to the purpose of getting 
bomb material present of course the least ambiguous signals. 
Some nuclear activities, facilities and equipment that are regarded 
as having legitimately "civilian" applications may nonetheless 
advance a country significantly toward a military weapons 
capability. That is to say, they diminish the additional costs 
entailed by a decision to get the bomb. They reduce the remaining 
time it would take to get nuclear explosives, and they reduce also 
the additional political risks of exposure and counteraction. For 
usable warning time must be measured at best from the moment 
that identification or differentiation from the noise is reliably made. 
For some sorts of response, the signals have to be not merely 
unambiguous enough, but they must also be public, i.e., usable 
without excessive risk of destroying sources. 

Confusions of " Peaceful Use" with "Exclusively Peaceful Use" 

The rhetoric of Atoms for Peace has tended, for countries 
aspiring to or undecided about whether to get nuclear weapons, to 
enhance the political utility of the ambiguity inherent in nominally 
civilian activities which in fact have a dual military and civilian 
character. With the one explicit exception of Plowshare (nuclear 
explosives for civil engineering). Article IV of the NPT is frequently 


interpreted as conferring legitimacy on all civilian activities, 
simply because they have some civilian function.^ This is so even 
if they are not exclusively civilian in their import. As a result, 
Article IV is often interpreted as obliging all advanced countries 
to transfer any civilian technology except Plowshare, no matter 
how far such transfer might carry the recipient country toward 
a military nuclear capability. Even some Agreements on Nuclear 
Cooperation between countries have been rather careless in failing 
to include or to stress the adverb "exclusively." And the trouble 
goes back to the beginning of the nuclear era, when we formed 
the habit of talking as if a civilian use automatically substituted 
for military utility, rather than sometimes complementing or 
enhancing it. 

However, the legislative history of the IAEA Statute shows 
that "peaceful" was intended to mean "exclusively peaceful," as 
well it might in the commonsense interpretation. In the United 
States, for example, the legislative history makes clear that U.S. 
Senators have always been concerned that a civilian use should 
not also assist a country to get nuclear bombs. One illustration is 
the exchange between Senator Sparkman and Secretary of State 
Dulles in the 1957 Hearings on the IAEA. The Senator asked, "Just 
what certainty is there that a particular peacetime project might 
not have a future military use as well as a peaceful one?" Secretary 
Dulles deferred to Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Strauss 
but gave his 

untutored impression that since the material furnished 
will not itself be of weapon quality, and since the mak- 
ing, converting of it into weapon quality or the extrac- 
tion of weapons quality material out of it as a byproduct 
would be an elaborate and difficult and expensive op- 
eration, that could not occur without the knowledge of 
the agency and that the violation would be detected. 

According to the Secretary's impression, in short, the material 
furnished, or derived from what was furnished, would be 

Senator Sparkman's concern addressed the plain common 
sense meaning of "Atoms for Peace" and of various Agreements on 
Nuclear Cooperation. He assumed, but wanted to be assured, that 
the material would have only a peaceful use. In the same way, in 
reading the Nonproliferation Treaty, we ought to keep in mind 


that the peaceful uses it wants to encourage are intended to be 
exclusively peaceful, not also military. 

Now Article IV of the NPT refers to the undertaking by all 
parties to the Treaty "to facilitate" and the right of all parties 
"to participate in the fullest possible exchange of equipment, 
materials and scientific and technological information for the 
peaceful uses of nuclear energy." Indeed, it refers to such rights 
to the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy, in the language of 18th- 
century natural law, as "inalienable." The contention was made 
by many of the delegates to the Iran Conference on Transfer of 
Nuclear Technology at Persepolis in the spring of 1977 that this 
"inalienable right" includes the stocking of plutonium or other 
highly concentrated fissile material and was therefore violated by 
President Carter's proposal to delay commitment to unrestricted 
commerce in plutonium. This particular Third World rebellion 
might have been a little more convincing if the President of 
the American Nuclear Society had not played a leading role 
in the writing of their declaration, and if some of the countries 
complaining most bitterly about a supposed violation of a most 
sacred part of the NPT had not themselves neglected ever to sign 
or ratify the NPT. 

However, Article IV explicitly states that the inalienable right 
of all parties to the Treaty to the peaceful use of nuclear energy has 
to be in conformity with Articles I and II, and it is these Articles 
that are what make the Treaty a treaty against proliferation. In 
Article I the nuclear weapons states promise not to transfer or "in 
any way to assist, [or] encourage ... any non-nuclear weapons 
state to manufacture" nuclear explosives. If the "fullest possible 
exchange" were taken to include the provision of stocks of highly 
concentrated fissile material within days or hours of being ready 
for incorporation into an explosive, this would certainly "assist" an 
aspiring nonnuclear weapons state in making such an explosive. 
No reasonable interpretation of the Nonproliferation Treaty 
would say that the Treaty intends, in exchange for an explicitly 
revocable promise by countries without nuclear explosives not 
to make or acquire them, to transfer to them material that is 
within days or hours of being ready for incorporation in a bomb. 
Some help and certainly the avoidance of arbitrary interference 
in peaceful uses of nuclear energy are involved. However, the 
main return for promising not to manufacture or receive nuclear 
weapons is clearly a corresponding promise by some potential 
adversaries, backed by a system to provide early warning if the 


promises should be broken. The NPT is, after all, a treaty against 
proliferation, not for nuclear development. 

At the Windscale Inquiry in 1977, British Nuclear Fuels Limited 
(BNFL) and the U.K. Department of Energy took the position that 
England was obligated under Article IV to perform plutonium 
separation services for non-weapon states.* And Mr. Justice 
Parker, in his Report on the Inquiry, agreed with BNFL. He said 
in fact that the NPT is "on its face a straightforward bargain"^: an 
exchange of every assistance by the nuclear weapons states in the 
development of nuclear energy for a promise by the nonnuclear 
weapon states not to make or get nuclear weapons. This assumes, 
among other things, that the non-weapon states have no interest 
of their own in seeing that other nonnuclear weapon states do not 
acquire nuclear weapons, that South Korea does not care if North 
Korea has the bomb, that Syria is unconcerned about a nuclear 
Iraq, that Iraq is not concerned about Iran, that Pakistan is not 
worried about India, and that Belgium is not concerned about 
the Federal Republic of Germany. This, of course, is an absurdity, 
since it is not hard to find recent statements to the contrary in 
almost all of these countries. Moreover, it flies in the face of the 
actual history of the genesis of the NPT, which started as a rather 
straightforward bargain, proposed by the Irish Republic, among 
non-weapon states to increase their safety by mutual agreement to 
abstain from getting nuclear weapons.* Article IV was one of the 
embellishments added in the course of negotiation. 

There are, of course, powerful commercial incentives for 
suppliers who are engaged in selling nuclear services and various 
nuclear materials and facilities to interpret Article IV as imposing 
as little constraint as possible. In the short term at least, the "fullest 
possible exchange of equipment, materials and services" is the 
greatest encouragement to nuclear sales. The purchasers might 
have mixed motives. Some, as President Carter himself suggested 
on April 7, 1977, clearly have used or intend to use civilian facilities 
to develop a nuclear explosive capability. Some, undoubtedly, 
believe that civilian nuclear transfers will be of enormous 
economic benefit or, perhaps, that they can stave off economic 
disaster. They may be interested in the fullest possible exchange, 
especially if Article IV can be interpreted as requiring nuclear 
suppliers to subsidize these transfers. During the negotiation of 
the treaty, in fact, Italy proposed inserting language to that effect, 
but the motion was defeated. 


The report of the Windscale Inquiry insisted that the nuclear 
weapon states have the obligation, even if it might involve some 
expense or loss/ By great good fortune it happens that Britain's 
fulfillment of its obligation, as interpreted by Mr. Justice Parker, 
is alleviated somewhat by the fact that the billion dollar contract it 
has arranged with the Japanese involves a cost plus commitment 
by the Japanese. The loss sustained then can only be negative. 

Time, Warning Time and Article IV 

The interpretation of Article IV is by no means a trivial 
matter. If, in fact, technological transfers can bring a "non-nuclear 
weapon state" within weeks, days or even hours of the ability to 
use a nuclear explosive, in the operational sense that "non-nuclear 
weapon state" will have nuclear weapons. The point is even more 
fundamental than the fact that effective safeguards mean timely 
warning. A necessary condition for having timely warning is that 
there be a substantial elapsed time. But if there is no substantial 
elapsed time before a government may use nuclear weapons, in 
effect it has them. 

Consider, for example, the situation of a government engaged 
in a very short war with an adversary that has no nuclear weapons. 
If its adversary appears to be winning, and [if] the government 
has plutonium in explosive concentrations and the capability 
of assembling an implosion system developed by years of 
experiments with nonnuclear explosives in the rapid compression 
of heavy metal, then from the standpoint of the adversary who 
had been winning, it would be facing a government which to all 
practical effect had nuclear weapons. 

Or, consider the case of a government which is not at war, 
but is capable of quickly assembling a nuclear device to use or 
threaten to use against another government without such a 
capability. Once again, there is no practical difference between 
the coercion it could use or the threat it could execute from what 
a nuclear power might manage. 

Or, one might even consider a case where both of two 
adversaries were that close to potential assembly and use. The 
instability might be at least that which we associate with some 
possible confrontations between two vulnerable nuclear powers. 

The point may be driven home if we recall that in 1947, 
for example, the United States stored its plutonium weapons 
in disassembled form. Moreover, since the design was quite 


primitive and used much more inconvenient components than are 
commercially available today, the process of putting the weapon 
together took many hours. In fact, it took a longer time than would 
be needed today by a well prepared government laboratory to 
make highly concentrated fissile material ready for insertion in 
a nonnuclear assembly for compressing it rapidly.* The United 
States did have nuclear weapons in 1947. And if the rules are 
relaxed enough, so can nonnuclear weapon states today.' 

There have been a number of recent statements suggesting as 
implausible "an overnight scenario" by which is meant apparently 
a contingency in which a non-weapon state assembled a weapon 
in less than a day or so.^" There is, of course, nothing magical or 
even anything of critical importance in the interval of 24 hours. 
For purposes of policy against the spread of nuclear weapons, it 
would be bad enough if a prospective nuclear power were able 
to get ready in a few days or a few weeks. In suggesting that it 
would be a great failure in proliferation policy if the rules made 
it legitimate for a non-weapon state to come within a day or so 
of readiness to use nuclear weapons, we surely do not imply 
that having months or years of warning would not be valuable. 
Nonetheless, it is worth noting on the plausibility of the overnight 
scenario that the United States assembled the very first nuclear 
bomb for the Trinity test in 26 hours and this included time out to 
get some sleep. ^^ 

At the Windscale Inquiry, representatives of BNFL suggested, 
as an alternative to dependence on slightly enriched uranium, 
that those governments (which BNFL said were moved by a 
concern for "energy independence" and a desire to obtain the 
conservation benefits of plutonium) be allowed to purchase 
plutonium separation services, but that the plutonium be sent 
out in the form of plutonium fuel rods, perhaps pre-irradiated or 
made radioactive in some other way; and in any case, that such 
fuel be placed under strict international storage and control and 
released only according to international criteria. The report of the 
Windscale Inquiry in paragraph 17.6 seems to accept this suggestion 
as a partial alleviation of the fact, which it there recognizes, that 
plutonium fuel would bring non-weapon states closer to nuclear 

But this proposal has several difficulties, including some that 
involve an intolerable legal tangle in the interpretation of Article 
IV and some that would involve difficulties intolerable to the 


To illustrate the latter point, this proposal would make these 
countries more rather than less dependent on outside sources for 
an uninterrupted fuel supply, and their reactor operations would 
be much more liable to shutdowns than with the slightly enriched 
uranium fuel which it would be feasible and safe to supply. ^^ 
Presumably, BNFL's proposal would mean keeping strategic 
quantities of plutonium out of the hands of governments that do 
not have nuclear weapons. If such arrangements were practicable 
at all, keeping the amount of plutonium under national control 
to less than a bomb's worth or a few bombs' worth would allow 
these countries almost no working stocks of MOX or separated 
plutonium under their own control. With only one MOX reload 
as a working stock for each reactor, and assuming they do not 
fabricate their own MOX fuel, in the 1990s Japan and the Federal 
Republic of Germany would each have more than 1,000 bombs' 
worth of plutonium quickly accessible and even Spain would 
have 650 bombs' worth.^^ (That is, on their plans up to recently. If 
they fabricated their own MOX fuel they would have even more 
plutonium, in forms still more directly usable in nuclear weapons.) 
But less than one thousandth or one 650th of a country's annual 
reload requirement could hardly be called a working stock. 

The American experience with India offers strong evidence 
that even supplies of slightly enriched uranium fuel that would 
have been enough to guarantee operation of the Tarapur reactor 
for over two years have been deemed by the Indian government 
to be below emergency levels, dictating resupply by air and other 
speedy action.^* Moreover, the debate in the 1950s on the draft of 
the IAEA Statute focused on similar though less drastic proposals 
for deposit of fissionable materials with the IAEA. Even then it was 
made clear that to give such powers to the IAEA was unacceptable 
to governments like India, as threatening their economic life and 
their independence . ^^ It seems extremely unlikely that governments 
trying to secure a little more energy independence by the use of 
plutonium fuel than if they only used natural or slightly enriched 
uranium would accept a new international institution depriving 
them of any significant national control of such plutonium, thus 
making them more rather than less dependent on outside powers 
for continuity of supply. 

Fresh low enriched uranium stocks under national control 
are more likely to be susceptible to limitations satisfying both the 
user's desire for adequate working stocks and the international 
community's desire to keep stocks of highly concentrated 


fissionable material out of the hands of non-weapon states. It is 
also true that international control and close, even continuous, 
inspection of spent uranium fuel would intrude much less into 
the essential operation of power or research reactors, yet serve an 
important function in providing early warning of diversion. 

The proposal also makes a chaos out of the interpretation of 
Article IV proposed by BNFL and Justice Parker (and most of the 
vocal attendees at the Persepolis Conference). That interpretation 
of Article IV, it will be recalled, had it that "every assistance" — 
that is, any transfer whatsoever except for an actual weapon — was 
required by Article IV. Even though the first paragraph of Article 
IV states that the use of nuclear energy it contemplates must be "in 
conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty," which prohibits 
transfers that would "in any way . . . assist . . . non-nuclear weapon 
states to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons," 
Justice Parker's report says that this does not exclude the transfer 
of the service of separating plutonium. Mr. Parker says quite 
correctly that at the time of the signing of the Treaty, many of 
the parties to the Treaty believed that the development of nuclear 
energy contemplated under Article IV included the production 
of plutonium. In fact, it is not hard to find documentation for 
that statement, including statements specifically mentioning the 
transfer of metallic plutonium. The fact that the parties to the 
Treaty did not understand that power reactor plutonium was 
not and could not be "denatured," explains how they could have 
accepted both Article IV and Articles I and II, to which Article IV is 
subject. However, it is also obvious that many parties to the Treaty 
believed that they would not be subject to any of the constraints 
involved in the technical "fixes" BNFL and the report propose. 
Surely no government expected to receive fuel in pre-irradiated 
form and many, if not most, expected to fabricate plutonium 
fuel themselves, and to be handling metallic plutonium. The 
government of Canada, for example, a non-weapon state which is 
a party to the Treaty, fabricated plutonium fuel in the early 1960s 
for use in its NRX research reactor. To insist that governments be 
deprived of plutonium except in the form of already fabricated 
fuel rods, would be to deny them "every assistance." 

The only way out of this dilemma is to recognize that "a 
non-proliferation treaty should not contain any provisions 
which would defeat its major purpose."^* That statement was 
made during the hearings on the NPT before the Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee by the U.S. spokesman who apparently 


himself did not understand that power reactor plutonium metal 
was directly usable in the bomb, and had mentioned it as one of 
the things he thought was consistent with Article IV. 

The operational meaning of Article IV is not an academic 
matter. If suppliers could legitimately make any nuclear transfer 
other than that of a fully assembled weapon, then this would 
radically transform the situation both of warning signals and 
of the sanctions they might evoke. For there to be a signal of a 
violation, the activity signaled has to be illegitimate. But if Article 
IV is not subject to the constraints of Articles I and II, in effect 
there may be no violations. 

As for sanctions, the implications here are worth stressing. 

Sanctions and Article IV^^ 

Ambiguities as to whether an activity is "safe" and civilian, 
or "dangerous" in its military implications, not only confuse 
and reduce warning. They weaken and can totally frustrate 

For a dozen years now, U.S. spokesmen have indicated that 
our agreements on the peaceful use of nuclear energy have always 
implicitly excluded the manufacture of nuclear explosives.^' The 
Canadian government has said the same. When the Indians 
conducted a nuclear explosion, they described it as "peaceful," 
and not a violation of any agreement either with Canada or with 
the United States. The Canadian government, adhering to the 
commonsense meaning of its agreements on nuclear cooperation 
with India, took immediate steps to administer sanctions. They 
stopped essentially all nuclear cooperation not only under the 
agreement covering the CIRUS research reactor, but also on those 
covering the CANDU power reactors at Rajasthan. The United 
States, on the other hand, did not follow suit. It continued its 
nuclear cooperation with India, and indeed in 1976 Hearings 
before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of 
State held that if the United States did not continue its shipments 
of slightly enriched uranium to India under its Agreement on 
Cooperation covering the Tarapur reactors, the United States would 
be in violation; and that this would free the government of India 
to do whatever it wanted to, not only with the future plutonium it 
might accumulate from that reactor, but also with the plutonium 
it had accumulated in the past.^" The present as well as the past 
Indian administration has indicated it takes a similar position. 


In fact, a casual survey of the debates in Parliament and the 
Indian press revealed the prevalence of the view in India that 
the United States is or would be in violation, but failed to turn 
up any suggestion that the Indian government had violated the 
agreement on CIRUS in making and testing its nuclear explosive. 
Of course, most of our agreements now explicitly exclude the 
manufacture and testing of a completed nuclear explosive. The 
point of this example, however, is more general. If an activity that 
brings a country very close to a nuclear weapon, and that stops 
just short of its assembly, is legitimate, then by assumption, there 
is nothing wrong with it. The government of that country has not 
violated the agreement. Moreover, it is the application of sanctions 
by the supplier that would be a violation of the agreement. 

Increase of Civilian Nuclear Noise through Laxity in Project 

The practice of promoting and undertaking civilian nuclear 
activities which may confer prestige but have no strict economic 
justification has increased the noise background which serves 
as a potential cover for military activities. The IAEA has as 
part of its charter the mission of accelerating and enlarging the 
benefits of civilian uses of nuclear energy, with special regard 
for the developing countries. It is worth observing, however, 
that the principal international agency charged with financing 
international economic development, namely, the International 
Bank for Reconstruction and Development, has refused to 
finance nuclear projects in the less developed world (and not 
only the most dubious projects like small reprocessing plants 
or the cumulation of fissile stocks likely to be idle for decades) 
because it wants to support economic development rather than 
status or prestige. Nuclear electric power is in general highly 
capital intensive, efficient only in very large sizes and requires 
continuing highly sophisticated maintenance, characteristics 
which do not in general fit the needs of less-developed countries. 
Expenditures for using plutonium fuel in breeders are in general 
even more inappropriate. However dubious the civilian value of 
some nuclear projects, their military applicability may be quite 
definite. The most familiar example is Plowshare, which has yet to 
demonstrate a realistic economic application, but which — because 
of the laxity of economic analysis applied to such projects — has 
served as a nominally civilian cover for an activity with obvious 


military implications. In this case, the lack of rigor in the economic 
analysis, indeed the nearly total absence of any economic analysis 
at all, has reinforced the error involved in ignoring the point that 
"Atoms for Peace" means "exclusively for peace." These particular 
atoms for "peace" are in fact likely to be useful exclusively for 
war. Article IV of the NPT therefore excludes "peaceful" nuclear 

Plowshare, however, is merely the most familiar case. The 
careless way in which nuclear establishments in the mid-1950s 
and at the beginning of the 1960s decided to separate plutonium 
and to accumulate it for the distant and uncertain date at which 
it might be used for the initial load of a breeder reactor, ignored 
any rigorous economic criterion for investments over time. A 
rigorous criterion would maximize the productive use of current 
resources and so increase the resources available for future 
generations. When India decided in the mid-1950s to invest in a 
separation facility and in stocks of plutonium which in essence 
would be economically idle for many decades — until the hoped- 
for appearance of a thorium breeder, or near-breeder — this 
was a waste of capital in a developing country where capital is 
particularly scarce. Yet the activity served to increase the noise 
level and the opportunities and ease for a decision to make 
military nuclear explosives when circumstances changed. 

Take the example of India: It has frequently been said that 
there is very little connection between programs for nuclear 
electricity and the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries. 
And the prime example of this lack of connection is sometimes 
said to be the Indian bomb program, which used plutonium from 
their CIRUS research reactor. On the contrary, the Indian program 
illustrates the connection. The CIRUS reactor was intended from 
the beginning to produce plutonium as well as to offer facilities 
for research and training. Both the plutonium and the research 
and training were connected with nuclear electric power plans. 
The research and training were, as one might expect, connected 
indirectly. For a large-scale power program, men needed to be 
trained in operating reactors, in handling radioactive materials, 
in fabrication of fuel, in safety measures, and in understanding 
the physics and engineering of related nuclear processes. CIRUS 
was an important part of that. Moreover, the Indians intended 
to develop their own natural uranium burner reactors on the 
Canadian model, moderated by heavy water, and studies and 
experiments with CIRUS were part of the program of designing 


such power reactors. Finally, the plutonium was intended from 
the start to be separated and stocked for use in near -breeder and 
breeder power reactors. ^^ In short, the CIRUS reactor and the 
Phoenix separation plant were, from the beginning, part and 
parcel of an ambitious nuclear electric power program. 

These long range plans paralleled in a general way (with some 
modifications for exploitation of specifically Indian resources 
of thorium) the model of nuclear power development current 
in the industrial countries: to begin with burner reactors, and 
to make a transition to breeders, using the plutonium from the 
burner reactors for the initial fuel loading of the breeders. The fact 
that such production and separation of plutonium followed the 
general model of Canada and the U.S. itself in this respect gave 
the Indian plans an apparent legitimacy. It made less likely that 
anyone would question whether the plutonium would be used 
in an explosive. Later, after the Sino-Indian war and the Chinese 
bomb test (and after nuclear explosives for civil engineering had 
been presented by the U.S. as a plausible agenda item at the Second 
International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy), the 
Indians contemplated the use of the plutonium from CIRUS under 
the alternative, apparently legitimate rubric of "Plowshare." (By 
as early as 1966 Canada and the U.S., in response to rumors of 
Indian interest in "peaceful" nuclear explosives, said in public 
that any nuclear explosive had a clear military use.) 

In the case of Plowshare, the cover of legitimacy was too 
transparent to escape international notice and eventually a 
sizeable international response. The Indian explosion provoked a 
more immediate response, particularly by Canada. However, the 
apparent legitimacy of the initial plans for the use of plutonium 
from the CIRUS reactor for a future breeder served very well in 
bringing the Indians to a position where they required very little 
additional effort to shift to "peaceful" nuclear explosives from 
plutonium stocked for breeder power reactors. The fact that such 
plutonium stocks were justified by a quite unrealistic economic 
and technical program for an early breeder did not distinguish it 
sufficiently from India's other nuclear programs with a civilian 
purpose; and the universality of similar long-range programs in 
other countries helped explain why it was never noted that such 
programs were not exclusively civilian in the technologies they 
made accessible. 

Finally, such neglect of the military potential implicit in these 
civilian programs is made easier by the fact that the transfers 


involved are small ones, shipments of heavy water and the 
like, and training in reprocessing for small numbers of nuclear 
engineers. These can be handled at middle or even lower levels 
of the bureaucracy, where high policy is rarely in mind. When the 
transfers come up for approval at higher levels, their small scale 
is reassuring to the policymaker. Surely they do not constitute a 
mortal danger. In fact, they seem like a reasonable item or trinket 
for barter for the good will of a friendly country, and the good 
will of one's counterpart in the bureaucracy or political hierarchy 
of that country. 

But it is precisely in this way that the policy on spreading 
civilian nuclear energy as a substitute for military nuclear energy 
dissolved into incoherence and the furtherance of military nuclear 
activity during the late 1950s. And it is always in danger of 

Plowshare has for a long time been a rather transparent 
cover for a military purpose. However, it seems that decisions 
to stock separated plutonium for the breeder began as sincerely 
but badly conceived economic measures. Many other countries 
besides India, including Japan, decided very early to accumulate 
plutonium, not for recycle in light water reactors, but for the 
breeder. These early decisions were made with little economic 
analysis, on the basis of quite unrealistic anticipations of the 
dates at which breeders might be of commercial importance. In 
India, however, these early decisions made on other than military 
grounds served to prepare for a program of nuclear explosives. 
More recent decisions to acquire either stocks of plutonium 
separated elsewhere, or a national separation plant, are likely 
to be from the outset more self-consciously related to military 
plans. For example, Pakistan, which has no reactors requiring 
fuel enriched by either uranium or plutonium, sometimes insists 
that the separation plant it is purchasing from France is purely 
civilian in intent, and on the other hand sometimes says that she 
will be glad to give up plutonium separation, provided that the 
superpowers abandon their own nuclear weapons. ^^ Which rather 
directly, if inconsistently, acknowledges that Pakistan's purpose 
in separating plutonium is only to make nuclear weapons to 
balance those of "Nuclear Powers" and that this purpose would 
be served equally by the destruction of everybody else's nuclear 


ENDNOTES - Wohlstetter et al. - Signals, Noise 
and Article IV 

1. "Reactor Plutonium and Nuclear Explosives," briefingpaper 
by Robert W. Selden reported by Robert Gillette as presented to 
representatives of nuclear industry and foreign governments, 
November 1976, Meeting of the American Nuclear Society and 
Atomic Industrial Forum, Washington, DC. See Gillette, "Military 
Potential Seen in Civilian Nuclear Plants," Los Angeles Times, June 
26, 1977. 

2. International Atomic Energy Agency, Information Circu- 
lar/153, p. 28; and Safeguards Technical Manual, lAEA-174, 1976. 

3. See Arthur Steiner, "Article IV and the 'Straightforward 
Bargain'," PAN Paper 78-832-08, in Wohlstetter et al., Towards a 
New Consensus on Nuclear Technology, Vol. 2: Supporting Papers, 
ACDA Report No. PH-78-04-832-33, Marina del Rey, CA: Pan 
Heuristics, July 6, 1979. 

4. The BNFL view of Article IV reflects this interpretation 
widely preferred by the nuclear industry and nuclear agencies of 
other countries as well. See, for example, "U.S. Nuclear Export 
Policy," statement by the Atomic Industrial Forum's Committee 
on Nuclear Export Policy, July 21, 1976. It also appears to be the 
view of the Director General of the IAEA. 

5. Report by the Hon. Justice Parker, presented to the British 
Secretary of State for the Environment, in The Windscale Inquiry, 
Vol. 1, Report and Annexes 3-5, London: Her Majesty's Stationery 
Office (HMSO), January 26, 1978. 

6. See Steiner, "Article IV and the 'Straightforward Bargain'." 

7. Windscale Inquiry, p. 18. 

8. Albert Wohlstetter, "Spreading the Bomb without Quite 
Breaking the Rules," and History of the Strategic Air Force, 
typescript. Vol. 1, unclassified portion in Air Force history 


9. On this point, see Albert Wohlstetter et al., Swords from 
Plowshares, op. cit. 

10. See, for example, Carl Walske, "Nuclear Power and 
Proliferation," speech delivered to the International Conference on 
Nuclear Power and the Public: A European-American Dialogue, 
Geneva, Switzerland, September 27, 1977. 

11. Arthur Steiner, "Trinity, the First Overnight Bomb," Pan 
Heuristics Paper 78-832-09, February 1978. 

12. Our comments here do not address the question as to what 
extra costs would be imposed on the purchaser by the various 
methods of making the fuel radioactive, nor the question as to 
how effective such technical "fixes" might be. 

13. Chap. 1, "The Military Potential of Civilian Nuclear 
Energy," in Swords from Plowshares. 

14. March 25 Order By the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
in the Matter of India, to Export Special Nuclear Material, Docket 
XSNM 805, KSNM 845, Transcript, pp. 4ff. 

15. Dr. Bhabha rejected the draft proposal which gave the 
IAEA the power "to approve the means to be used for chemical 
processing of irradiated materials recovered or produced as a by- 
product, and to require that such special fissionable materials be 
deposited with the Agency except for quantities authorized by 
the Agency to be retained for specified nonmilitary use under 
continuing Agency safeguards." (AEA/CS/OR/28, p. 6.) "In 
our opinion," Dr. Bhabha continued, "the present draft gives 
the Agency the power to interfere in the economic life of States 
which come to it for aid. ... It therefore constitutes a threat to their 
independence, which will be greater in proportion to the extent 
that this atomic power generation is developed through Agency 
aid" (IAEA/ CS/OR/7, pp. 49-50). 

16. Hearings on the NPT before the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, July 1968, p. 39. 


17. See Arthur Steiner, "Safeguards, Sanctions and Signals," 
PAN Heuristics Paper 78-832-08, April 1978; and 'Article IV and 
the 'Straightforward Bargain'," op. cit. 

18. On this, see Wohlstetter et al., Swords from Plowshares, op. 

19. See testimony of Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. Senate, 
Committee on Government Operations on S.1439, June 16, 1976, 
p. 811. 

20. Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and 
International Environment and Scientific Affairs. 

21. See Roberta Wohlstetter, Seminar on U.S. Peaceful Aid 
and the Indian Bomb, Santa Monica, CA: Seminar on Arms 
Control and Foreign Policy, December 1976, revised August 1977; 
"The Buddha Smiles: Absent Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian 
Bomb," Monograph 3 in Can We Make 'Nuclear Power Compatible 
with Limiting the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, op. cit.; and Swords from 
Plowshares, op. cit. 

22. See, for example. Dawn Overseas, Islamabad, June 19, 1977: 
"Mr. Bhutto said Pakistan was ready to cancel its deal with France 
if the Nuclear Powers gave a solemn pledge to destroy each and 
every nuclear weapon." 


Nuclear Triggers and Safety Catches, 
the "FSU" and the "FSRs" (1992) 

Albert Wohlstetter 

Unpublished note, February 6, 1992, available from the 
Hoover Institution Archives, Albert and Roberta Wohl- 
stetter Papers, Notes, Box 121, Folder 1. Courtesy of the 
Wohlstetter Estate. 

February 6, 1992 

The U.S. and other Western leaders have been celebrating the 
breakup of the evil empire, the Former Soviet Union, or "FSU"; 
and the end of the Soviet nuclear threat to the West. But they 
sometimes seem to be continuing to try nostalgically to keep the 
old Empire — or most of it— together, under Moscow's control. 
They seem even to be trying to preserve the General Staff and the 
unified Soviet military responsible, if at all, to Moscow. Or if not, 
to that quite insubstantial ghost of Empire, the Commonwealth 
of Independent States (the CIS). Which is to say, responsible to 
no one. The Soviet General Staff seems to be the only entity of the 
FSU which doesn't need the qualifier "Former." 

Aside from nostalgia, it is the fear that the disintegration of 
the FSU might quicken the spread of nuclear and other weapons 
of mass destruction that most often motivates Western efforts to 
keep Moscow in charge. We should indeed worry about an increase 
in the number of centers capable of deciding independently to 
launch nuclear weapons. But our leaders' fears aren't that precise. 
That's part of the trouble. 

In its vague form, this fear was one of the main justifications 
for their support of Gorbachev and Communist rule. They needed 
same existing national entity that could sign nuclear arms control 
agreements. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, et. al. weren't 
national entities. Now that the former Soviet republics (the FSRs) 
do exist, and we recognize them. Western leaders continue to 
support Moscow. They have substituted Yeltsin (or possibly the 
General Staff) for Gorbachev, and the Russian Republic for the 
Soviet Union. 

They have been pressing the non-Russian FSRs to transfer 
all nuclear weapons to the Russian Republic. The FSRs such as 
Ukraine plainly don't feel they need nuclear weapons to deter 


an unprovoked nuclear attack by the United States. (That was 
never a plausible fear in the Soviet Union itself.) Many of the 
political leaders of the FSRs have indicated they want to be free of 
nuclear weapons. However, several of the FSRs are uneasy about 
allowing the Russian Republic, whose dominance they have only 
just escaped, to be the only FSR which could make an unimpeded 
decision to launch — or threaten to launch— nuclear weapons. 
They see that as a threat to their continuing independence. 

Ukraine, for example, has for decades been a site for the 
development and manufacture of nuclear weapons, not to 
mention chemical and biological weapons. Ukraine is likely to 
want to maintain some of the facilities they have, or build similar 
ones in the future. It seems the arrangements the U.S. government 
has been pushing offer incentives for the spread of independent 
decision centers for the production and use of weapons of mass 
destruction. The Administration doesn't want Ukraine et al. to 
have nuclear weapons, but apparently it does want Russia to have 

The Administration has made statements to the effect that it 
wants to see Russia keep nuclear weapons, even if they're aimed 
at us. 

In December 1991, Secretary Baker wound up in Brussels at 
the end of a long trip that took him to Moscow, Bishkek, Alma 
Ata, Minsk and Kiev. He held a press conference where he was 

Mr. Secretary, you said a minute ago that you were not 
unambiguously in favor of Russia becoming a non-nu- 
clear power because you said you weren't prepared to 
walk away from the concept of deterrence. Can you be a 
little more specific as to who the Russian nuclear weap- 
ons are deterring? 

Secretary Baker answered: 

No, and I won't right now be any more specific with you 
about whom our weapons are deterring. But over the 
past forty years they have served as a substantial and 
significant deterrent, and I would like to see zero weap- 
ons targeted on the United States, but I'm not prepared 
today here, having said that, to subscribe to the philoso- 
phy of de-nuclearization. That's all I was saying. 


How's that again? He and some of his advisors, like the Director 
of Policy Planning, have been clearer. However, on the subject of 
the spread of nuclear weapons in general, the fog at Foggy Bottom 
has been dense for many years. And it's been pretty cloudy about 
American interests in the disposition of the nuclear weapons, 
materials and facilities that are now distributed in the territory of 
several of the FSRs. 

It may be that some members of our Foreign Service feel that 
the Administration's reluctance to see the republics abandon 
nuclear weapons is because America needs adversaries armed with 
nuclear weapons in order to deter them from an attack on us. But 
then it's hard to see why we can't fortify our deterrence by letting 
other FSRs have the ability to launch weapons independently, so 
we could deter them. It's hard to see, then, why we should worry 
about Iran and Libya, or even Saddam. Poor Saddam, he's been 
trying so hard to get a nuclear force which we could also deter! 

Nuclear weapons are likely to spread further, without U.S. 
encouragement, and to countries that might use them or threaten 
to use them for purposes hostile to American interests. They'll be 
forces to exercise U.S. capabilities for deterrence. On the whole, 
it's a better idea to slow or to reduce their increase as much as 
possible. But policy in this connection will be better if the U.S. is 

It's in the U.S. interest, of course, to see as many of the nuclear 
weapons in the former Soviet Union disabled and destroyed as is 
feasible. But that process will take a lot of time. Put that aside for 
the moment and consider the control of those weapons that are 
not scheduled for destruction. 

We need to make at least one basic distinction: that between 
"control" meaning the power to decide to launch a nuclear 
weapon; and "control" meaning the power to veto a decision to 
launch a nuclear weapon. There's a difference between a finger 
on the trigger and a finger on the safety catch. The "trigger" or 
the "safety catch," like the "button," of course is a metaphor. But 
a useful one in this case. 

When we say we want to "concentrate" "control" in order 
to reduce the number of decisionmakers who control nuclear 
weapons, we mean we want to have as few fingers as possible 
on the "trigger." (Or: When one talks of reducing the number of 
people in "control" of nuclear weapons, it's the number of fingers 
on the trigger that' s contemplated.) We mean we want to minimize 


the number of those who can, without interference or veto, launch 
any of the nuclear weapons in the territory of the FSU. From the 
standpoint of the prospective targets, maximum safety would be 
achieved when the number of fingers on the trigger is zero. 

As for fingers on the "safety catch," the more the merrier. 

The United States had many weapons overseas under multi- 
key arrangements. From the standpoint of the United States, it 
seemed important that such weapons couldn't be used without 
a U.S. representative turning a key or inserting one essential part 
of the combination. Host countries, on the other hand, in general 
didn't want weapons launched from their territory without 
consent. They didn't want the weapons launched unless they 
had turned their key or inserted their part of the combination. 
Such arrangements can be made so that the weapons are not 
usable (without the efforts of a national laboratory) unless all 
combinations are inserted from remote sources. 

Neither Russia nor the non-Russian republics are worried 
about an American or French or British threat. They may worry 
about threats from each other that might come up in the course of 
the painful process of the division of assets, populations, etc., in 
which differences might be settled or strongly influenced by the 
potential use of weapons of mass destruction. 

From the American standpoint, but also from the standpoint 
of the FSRs, the best way to avoid those problems is to distribute 
vetoes over decisions to use nuclear weapons, wherever they are, 
rather than to distribute nuclear weapons or see their spread as 
counters to each other. 




Commentary: Arms Race Myths vs. 
Strategic Competition's Reality 

Richard Perle 

"All this is familiar, but is it true?" was Albert Wohlstetter's 
response to widely accepted ideas about the U.S. -Soviet arms 
race in 1976, ideas he proceeded to demolish — but only after 
adumbrating them with a precision that eluded the officials, 
academics, and intellectuals who held them. 

Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back? (1976) was vintage Wohl- 
stetter: precise, masterfully argued with clarity, logic, masses 
of evidence, wry humor, and great elegance. Albert puts the 
arguments he knocks down far better than their adherents, 
sharpening the vague notions that formed the core of thinking 
about arms control into well-defined propositions that could be 
tested against the evidence, the facts and logic on which they 
were based. 

Of course, he had been doing this for years, examining 
complex issues by breaking them down into their components, 
testing those components, gathering all the available relevant 
facts (and doing basic, original research to establish facts that 
were not readily available), reading everything connected to the 
subject, and rendering the whole into a rich, original, and rigorous 

In an unpublished note, Albert points to the importance of 
philosopher Karl Popper's insistence that meaningful statements 
must be open to disconfirmation. As Albert put it: "If a statement 
cannot conceivably be refuted by any observation or test, it has 
no meaning. Such statements are impregnable but empty."^ 
He regarded the vague provisions commonly found in arms 
control agreements as dangerously empty because they were 
too imprecise to be tested. From this observation he concluded — 
and subsequent history proved him right — that it would be 
extraordinarily difficult to reach clear and convincing conclusions 
about arms control violations, even when they occurred. 

While Albert's focus was principally on the nuclear arms 
control agreements of the 1970s and 1980s, the pitfalls of vaguely 
worded agreements — an inability to verify and therefore to force 


compliance — are as relevant to deals with Iran or North Korea 
today as they were for deals with the Soviets during the Cold 

Albert was at his best when the conventional thinking he 
challenged was most widely accepted: the greater the number 
of proponents, especially if they were widely read and admired, 
the more pleasure Albert took in the rigorous examination, and 
frequent refutation, of their views. And when he could group a 
gaggle of respected commentators into a chorus singing from the 
same flawed sheet of music, he did so with good-natured glee. That 
is why in Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back? he quoted so many 
"experts" saying the same thing. After all, two or three quotations 
from Morton Halperin or Jeremy Stone would have sufficed to 
demonstrate that conventional thinking about the "arms race" 
held it to be the product of over-estimation and reciprocal over- 
reaction. He hardly needed to add statements to the same effect 
from Jerome Wiesner, Leonard Rodberg, Herbert Scoville, Leslie 
Gelb, Robert McNamara, Stanley Hoffman, and Paul Warnke. But 
these were the authorities in the arms control field, and Albert was 
determined to corral them all before leading them to slaughter. 

For Albert, the field of" arms control" was almost wholly lacking 
in intellectual content. The popular press, drawing its information 
from conventionally thinking "experts," had largely succeeded in 
establishing the "fact" of a U.S.-Soviet arms race in the minds of 
policymakers as well as the broad public. Albert understood that 
the arms race theorists' underlying misconception would make it 
difficult to gain support for policies that could enhance American 
safety and security. So while he enjoyed demonstrating that there 
was in fact no such thing as a spiraling "arms race," he regarded 
the belief that there was as deadly serious. If a mistaken belief 
in a mythical mechanism called the "arms race" meant that the 
United States might not make prudent investments in secure and 
discriminate strategic forces, or might turn to fragile agreements 
rather than measures of self-defense, well, he would have to begin 
at the beginning and put the concept of the "arms race" under the 

And what a sharp, rigorous element his microscope had. 
Take, for example, Albert's treatment of the issue of over or under 
prediction of Soviet nuclear forces. Contrary to the widely held 
belief that we had chronically under-estimated the future size of 
Soviet arsenals, Albert's meticulous audit shows the opposite. 
Having won the point, he goes on to tease out and dissect yet 


another error — the mistaken belief among those who grudgingly 
acknowledged a history of under-estimations — that estimates got 
better with time and experience. This apparent but wrong finding 
was the product of a flawed methodology, which he takes pains 
to explain: 

Some analysts now grant that we underestimated, but 
claim that we improved with time. They ignore the im- 
portant difference between predicting a cumulative total 
of vehicles that will have been deployed at some future 
time, most of which are known to be already completed 
or in process at the time when the prediction is made, 
and predicting a change from this known state. This ac- 
curately-known past makes up an increasing portion of 
the cumulative total. Nonetheless, those who detect an 
improvement in forecasts compare predicted with ac- 
tual totals, not predicted with actual change from what 
was known; and so swamp unpredicted new starts in 
the steadily increasing total of launchers known to be 
started or completed. 

Albert was intrigued by the pattern of under-estimation he so 
carefully documented and searched for an explanation. When he 
found it, he put it succinctly: 

Part of the pressure to conform by underestimating was 
very likely a reflex, over-correcting for the "missile gap" 
that had publicly embarrassed the intelligence commu- 

Re-reading that, I could not help thinking of the December 2007 
National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear weapons 
program. Could the intelligence community be over-correcting 
for the infamous 2003 Iraq NIE that caused the nation and the 
world such grief? And if Albert were alive and serving on the 
President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, as he once did, 
would the CIA and the other intelligence agencies have gotten 
away with the Iraq estimate in the first place? Or the Iran estimate 

As a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, I sat 
through a number of intelligence briefings following the attacks 
of September 11, 2001. Some of them had to do with Iraq and 


its weapons of mass destruction. Now, with the advantage of 
hindsight, I can see how imprecision about what we actually 
knew — as opposed to what we believed could be reliably inferred — 
led to the mistaken conclusion that Iraq had a stockpile of weapons 
of mass destruction. The careless acceptance in the Iraq NIE of 
information that required establishing the reliability of informants 
was not inevitable. But the now famous case in which an Iraqi 
defector in Germany was never interviewed by U.S. intelligence, 
leaving his false claims simply taken at face value, would have 
astonished even Albert, who was a frequent critic of intelligence 
estimates. Albert served on the Defense Policy Board for many 
years, but not as the nation contemplated its response to 9/11. 

We will never know whether his relentless questioning 
of everything and everyone would have teased out the hidden 
assumptions and flawed inferences in the Iraq NIE. (Or, for 
that matter, whether he would have seen the possession of 
stockpiles of WMD as the central issue. He was, as so much of 
his writing makes clear, always mindful of how rapidly things 
can change and how quickly civilian programs — to say nothing 
of unilaterally abandoned military ones — can be activated for 
military purposes.) 

Neither will we enjoy the benefit of Albert's critique of the 
Iran NIE. I imagine it would zero in on the apparent inconsistency 
of Iran's sustained, costly, and challenging ballistic missile 
development with the regime's claim not to have a nuclear 
weapons program. I know he would be wary in the extreme of 
the idea that the way to deal with a future Iranian nuclear weapon 
is to sign an agreement in which the regime in Teheran promises 
to restrict itself to only "peaceful" uses of nuclear materials. 

If we were to think as Albert would about the issues flowing 
from Iran's current position with respect to nuclear power (they 
insist on it) and nuclear weapons ("we don't want and have no 
program to get them"), we would do well to study his important 
discussion of the multiple applications of a single technology or 
the multiple technologies instrumental in the achievement of a 
single purpose. Albert believed that both phenomena rendered 
arms control dangerously ineffective in all but a few very special 

In the case of the Iran NIE, and in other intelligence products 
not yet even conceived, we should resolve to apply the Wohlstetter 
four-word test: "But is it true?" 


Albert's disdain for arms control theory reflected his concern 
that ineffective agreements would substitute for hard thinking 
and hard choices about how to protect the nation in the era of the 
"delicate balance of terror." That was the title he gave to a brilliant, 
widely discussed article in Foreign Affairs in 1959 that introduced 
the broad public to the key concepts of strategy in the nuclear 
age, many of which were conceived and articulated during the 
course of his highly classified research at the RAND Corporation. 
He was especially emphatic in later years that careless thinking 
about arms control could drive strategic policy even further in 
the direction of accepting "mutual assured destruction" (MAD) 
as the key to American security. 

Much of Albert's critique of arms control refers to what he 
calls "MAD-based arms control" because its main objectives were 
premised on the idea that (a) stable nuclear deterrence was easy 
to achieve; (b) the way to achieve it was to build only a minimum 
deterrent force that could confidently destroy Soviet (or, for the 
Soviets, American) cities in a massive retaliatory attack; and 
(c) since both the United States and the Soviet Union accepted 
(a) and (b), agreements in which each pledged not to acquire 
capabilities beyond those defined in (b) could, and should, be 
negotiated. But when one examined the arguments for the arms 
control agreements beginning with the (subsequently violated) 
moratorium on nuclear testing and continuing through the 
ABM Treaty and the SALT and START treaties, they invariably 
presupposed the desirability of a strategic balance based on the 
threat to destroy cities. 

So, at the core of Albert's disparagement of arms control is his 
view that the underlying rationale for treaties limiting the numbers, 
types, and technologies of strategic forces served only to reinforce 
MAD doctrine, a doctrine he deplored on both prudential and 
moral grounds. After all, the idea that it was desirable to reduce 
our strategic arsenal to the lowest number of weapons required 
for massive retaliatory attacks against Soviet cities meant that if 
deterrence failed, we might someday be forced to choose between 
doing nothing or killing millions of innocent civilians. Throughout 
his life and writings, Albert argued the moral obtuseness of the 
physicists, clergymen, politicians, and intellectuals who so readily 
embraced MAD. (Once, observing a group of women marching in 
an antimissile defense demonstration in Washington, DC, Albert 
remarked: "They must call themselves 'mothers for offensive 
forces only'.") 


Responding to Henry Kissinger's rhetorical question, "What 
in God's name is superiority at these levels?", Albert comments: 

I am all for probing the premises of thought on arms and 
arms-control which the Secretary is said to want. But 
that can only start when we face up to evasions making 
"murder respectable" in such chaste phrases as "coun- 
ter-value attacks" and in all the unreflective vocabulary 
of the arms race. This is an important part of rethink- 
ing policy about our relations with allies and adversar- 
ies, long overdue and essential for reducing the present 

Albert's deep skepticism about the utility of arms control 
agreements did not lead him to oppose them in principle, 
although he was frequently described as among a group of 
analysts who were "opposed to arms control." While many of the 
arms control enthusiasts Albert assessed never met an agreement 
they didn't like, it could not be said that Albert opposed all 
agreements. To be sure, he set a much higher standard than the 
arms control professionals — negotiators, analysts, politicians, 
and professors — by insisting that only certain types of agreement 
were worth having. The criteria he set out are as relevant today 
as when he argued for them over a long career — and they tend to 
be ignored by diplomatic professionals who frequently lose sight 
of an agreement's purpose in their zeal to get an agreement for 
agreement's sake. 

The idea that arms control agreements should have limited 
purposes and should be of limited duration reflected Albert's 
view that "comprehensive" agreements were bound to invite 
evasion through the exploitation of loopholes or, worse, out-and- 
out violations. He opposed permanent agreements because he 
knew that the considerations underlying any agreement would 
change in unpredictable ways: today's technological cul de sac 
would become tomorrow's super highway. 

He knew that, once in place, arms control agreements were 
nearly impossible to vacate, even if they had clear termination 
clauses (indeed, even when they had expiration dates). And 
he knew that agreements were not self-enforcing. He scoffed 
at the claims of arms controllers that "if the other side violates 
the agreement, we will withdraw from it immediately." He had 
seen too many instances in which it was difficult or impossible to 


prove that a violation of a vaguely worded provision had taken 
place, or in which a questionable interest in keeping a violated 
agreement trumped even a legal exit, or in which the hope that yet 
another agreement could be reached led governments to turn a 
blind eye to the violations of the agreements already in place. He 
summarized his view of an agreement worth having this way: 

For this reason, one should reject the argument made by 
many proponents of arms control today that a treaty of 
permanent duration will confer stability, because it will 
enable us and our adversaries to plan with certainty. On 
the contrary, it is a sure recipe for instability because in 
general we cannot anticipate such further changes long 
enough in advance, and a permanent treaty would pre- 
vent us from making incremental adjustments when it 
becomes clear that they are about to occur. We should 
look for an agreement which is not only monitorable, but 
one which we can enforce unilaterally, and one that pro- 
vides strong incentives for us to enforce compliance. In 
fact, we want the incentives for our enforcing the agree- 
ment to exceed the incentives for looking the other way. 

Disappointment with the use of military power in Iraq has 
led to another of what have become recurrent surges in the idea 
that "diplomacy" can achieve what the force of arms cannot, and 
that agreements with adversaries are the highest expression of 
diplomacy. Thus we are deeply engaged in negotiations with Iran 
and North Korea in which Albert's high standard defining a good 
agreement will almost certainly not be met. And the search is on 
for other partners, venues, and contexts in which to negotiate the 
cooperation of other states in solving the problems we face. 

How will we approach an end to the uranium enrichment 
demands of the Iranians? How will we define the prohibited 
activities of the North Koreans under an agreement to cause 
them to abandon their nuclear weapons program? How should 
we respond to Putin's rants about ballistic missile defense or his 
threats to abandon arms control agreements reached during the 
Soviet period? Can the limitation of greenhouse gases be limited 
most effectively by constraints on the consumption of fossil fuels 
or by technological innovation? 

Albert would certainly not approve relying solely, or even 
significantly, on arms control agreements with the Iranians or 


the North Koreans as a means of halting their nuclear programs. 
And, having never been enthusiastic about the ABM Treaty or 
the agreements limiting conventional forces, I suspect he would 
treat Putin's threats and posturing with benign neglect. As for 
global warming, Albert would place a large bet on technology. 
He would look at the numbers, the costs of limiting consumption, 
the likelihood that our restraint would be vitiated by the behavior 
of others, the tradeoffs between limiting economic growth and 
investing in technology, and he would look beyond current 
thinking for new solutions. And he would be right. 


1. Albert Wohlstetter, "On Disconfirmability: A Karl Popper 
Sort of Observation on the Troubles with 'Verification','' unpub- 
lished, revised December 20, 1984, p. 1, available from the Albert 
and Roberta Wohlstetter Papers, Notes, Box 102 Folder 5. 


The Case for Strategic Force Defense (1969) 
Albert Wohlstetteri 

From Johan J. H0lst and William Schneider, Jr., eds.. Why 
ABM?: PoUcy Issues in the Missile Defense Controversy, 
New York: Pergamon Press, 1969, pp. 119-142. Courtesy 
of the Wohlstetter Estate. 


Since I believe the Safeguard program warrants the sums 
involved, and I support it, perhaps I should begin by saying that 
I am entirely sympathetic to a rigorous review of the Defense 
Budget. I favor getting our safety as cheaply as we can. Moreover, 
I believe the Defense Budget has a good deal of fat that can be 
cut without substantial harm. I would recommend, for example, 
a careful look at the equipment and support costs of our ground 
forces, and at our tactical air forces, both land and sea-based. 
Some of these seem ineffective, or leveled at threats that are poor- 
ly defined or not grave enough to be worth the cost. 

Sensible efforts to reduce the Defense Budget, however, would 
not center on the strategic offense and defense force. There are, of 
course, arguable choices about strategic offense and defense. But 
the eight billion dollar plus strategic budget makes up a small 
part of the total Defense Budget. It has a paramount importance 
for the safety of the country and, indeed, of international society. 
Deterring nuclear coercion and nuclear attack on ourselves and 
our allies, [and] reducing the damage done in case deterrence 
fails, are complex and uncertain functions; but because they are 
crucial, the part of the Defense Budget devoted to them has been 
the most studied and is better understood than any of the rest. 

Nonetheless, sizable uncertainties are intrinsic. They affect 
the predictions of scientists as well as the military and limit the 
reductions we can make without excessive risk. The strategic 
forces will need continuing adjustment to predicted and to some 
unanticipated changes in the state of the art. But such adjustments 
need not entail drastic changes up or down in long term levels of 

A start in deploying ABM [anti-ballistic missile defenses], I 
believe, is a prudent response to changes in the state of the art 


available to ourselves and to our adversaries. As strategic systems 
go, it is a modest program. It is subject to review and can be 
halted or stretched out. The average annual cost of the completed 
program on a five year basis is less than one-fifth of what we were 
spending for active defense against manned bombers at the end of 
the 1950's. Nor is it at all likely to start a quantitative arms spiral. 
Indeed, despite the stereotype, there has been no quantitative 
arms race in the strategic offense and defense budget, no "ever- 
accelerating increase," nor, in fact, any long term increase at all. 
The budget for strategic offense and defense forces in fiscal 1962 
was 11.3 billion dollars.^ The proposed fiscal 1970 budget, as of 
June, comes to about 8 billion dollars. Adjusted for price changes, 
the 1962 figure was well over fifty percent higher than that for 
1970, perhaps even as much as two-thirds higher. 

There is an important difference between making qualitative 
adjustments to technical change and expanding the number 
of vehicles or megatons or dollars spent. The difference has 
been ignored in a debate on ABM that seems at the same time 
impassioned and very abstract, quite removed from the concrete 
political, economic, and military realities of nuclear offense and 
defense and their actual history. For example, one alternative to 
protecting Minuteman is to buy more Minutemen without pro- 
tection. But adding new vehicles is costly and more destabilizing 
than an active defense of these hard points, since it increases the 
capacity to strike first. A one-sided self-denial of new technology 
can lead simply to multiplying our missiles and budgets, or to a 
decrease in safety, or to both. 

Active defense against ballistic missiles in the 1970's will 
have an important role to play in maintaining a protected and 
responsible second-strike capacity. The projected Safeguard de- 
fense of the national command authority and of the bomber and 
Minuteman bases are directed to this end. And it has a useful 
function in providing an area defense against attacks involving 
modest numbers of apparent incoming missiles. 

There have been so many charges that the Safeguard program 
was invented in bad faith in March of this year as a gimmick to 
answer critics of the Sentinel city defense that I would stress that in 
1967, long before the present Administration quite independently 
decided on Safeguard, the evidence of advancing technology 
convinced me that ABM in the 1970' s would have essentially the 
uses the Administration suggests for Safeguard, and in the same 
order: to defend the offense and, given this, at a small extra cost 


to provide a light area defense of population.^ In fact, there is a 
substantial continuity between the ABM decisions of the present 
and past Administrations. The last Administration called for an 
ABM area defense but said it would furnish an economic basis for 
defending Minuteman if the threat grew. It had been weighing 
and it continued to weigh this decision for some time — indeed 
itself requested some funds for hardpoint defense in its own 
version of the 1970 fiscal budget. 

Like the Republicans now, the Democrats in 1967 were 
charged with directing their ABM decision against the opposing 
party. I would recommend to opponents of ABM that they con- 
template the possibility that the decisions were made in good faith 
in both cases, and that we turn to the substance of the issues. 

There are other political and military functions of an ABM 
system than protecting the offense and offering an area defense 
of civilians against light attack. I would like to say something 
about each of these two latter roles and also something about 
the doctrine of Minimum Deterrence on which much opposition 
to the ABM is based, but time permits comment mostly on the 
protected offense function. 

ABM as a Part of a Second-Strike Force in the 1970's 

For one superpower as against another, getting and keeping 
a responsible second-strike force is feasible but hard. It requires 
thought, effort, and continuing realistic adjustments to tech- 
nological change. Minimum Deterrence theorists, who call for no 
defense of our civilians and nearly total reliance on a threat to 
bombard enemy civilians, have always claimed that the attacker 
inevitably must expend many strategic vehicles to destroy only 
one of the vehicles attacked. No such generalization holds. It has 
depended and always must depend on the changing capabilities 
of the offense and on the kind and degree of protection of the force 
attacked. At one time, for example, both we and the Russians had 
very many unprotected aircraft concentrated on a base within the 
lethal radius of a single bomb. On a two-wing base, for example, 
we had as many as one hundred thirty aircraft; on a one-wing 
base sixty-five medium bombers and tankers. And the planned 
response time was too slow for the reliable warning likely to 
be available. Small numbers of vehicles could have destroyed 
much larger numbers of the vehicles they attacked. Under some 
realistically determined conditions, the ratio would have favored 


the attacker by one to eight or more. These vulnerabilities had 
nothing to do with the supposed missile gap. In fact they preceded 
such predictions. 

There is always a temptation in such circumstances to resort 
to responses that are automatic or that bypass national command. 
Advocates of sole reliance on city bombardment forces have from 
the time this doctrine first gained currency been tempted to prove 
that response was certain by making it automatic, by shortcutting 
responsible political decision.* But the decision to launch ICBM's 
against Russian cities would be perhaps the most momentous 
choice ever made in all of history. It would be the decision for 
World War III. If this awful decision is ever made it should be 
based on as much information as we can get and it should be made 
by as high a political authority as possible. It is the last decision 
we should contemplate delegating to a computer. 

The revival today, by several distinguished senators and 
some able physicists opposing ABM, of the suggestion that, 
rather than defend ICBM's [intercontinental ballistic missiles], 
we should launch them at Russian cities simply on the basis of 
radar represents a long step backward. If we were willing to do 
this, we would dispense with silos or Poseidon submarines or any 
other mode of protecting our missiles. And we would increase the 
nightmare possibility of nuclear war by mistake. 

Understanding of the complex problems of designing a 
protected and responsible nuclear strategic force has grown 
slowly among scientists as well as laymen, civilians as well as 
soldiers, Democrats as well as Republicans. But it has grown, and 
decisively. The United States has designed and deployed a second- 
strike force capable of riding out an attack, and there have been 
large improvements in protecting responsible command. This was 
accomplished not by merely expanding nuclear bombardment 
forces, but in essence by shifting to forces with protection against 
the changing threat. The stereotype repeated throughout the 
1960's that our security has declined while our strategic force 
grew at an accelerating rate is grossly wrong on both counts. In 
the past some key programs increased the protected second-strike 
capacity of the force, while cutting at the same time billions of 
dollars from the spending projected. 

In the 1970's unless we continue to make appropriate deci- 
sions to meet technological change, once again the viability of 
a large part of our second-strike force will be put in question. 
Several related innovations, but in particular the development 


of a rocket booster carrying many reentry vehicles each aimed 
precisely at a different target, raise once again the possibility of 
attack ratios favoring the attacker. One reentry vehicle may kill 
a booster carrying several. One booster can carry the means of 
destroying many boosters. 

Raising a question about the future second-strike capacity of 
any part of our strategic force implies nothing about the present 
intentions of an adversary to strike first or even to be able in the 
future effectively to strike first. The recent debate on whether 
the Soviet missile, SS-9, is a "first-strike weapon" or whether the 
Russians intend it to be seems beside the point. If by maintaining 
our second-strike capability we can make the risks of striking 
very great, this can affect an adversary's intentions favorably 
to ourselves. It can deter him even in a crisis, like the one over 
missiles in Cuba, when the alternative to striking may look bad, 
but not, if we are careful, as bad as striking. Moreover, we ought 
not to talk of "first-strike weapons" and "second-strike weapons" 
as if this could be settled simply by looking at the weapons on one 
side. Whether or not a weapons system can preclude substantial 
retaliation will depend on many uncertain future performance 
characteristics of the forces on both sides. The test of whether 
one has a responsible second-strike capacity is whether one can, 
under nuclear attack, preserve vehicles, decision centers, and the 
flow of communications among them, whether one can transmit 
the order to retaliate and penetrate adversary defenses to reach 
targets. If we were unwilling even to entertain the hypothesis 
of a first-strike, we would do nothing to protect any part of our 
strategic forces or its control centers by making them mobile or 
hard or defended by ABM. Some leading scientists who oppose 
currently deploying ABM say they will favor it for the defense 
of Minuteman when precise MIRV's [multiple independently 
targetable reentry vehicles] and the related offense technologies 
are likely to be available to the Russians. That calendar date, and 
not present Soviet intent, is then a major substantive issue for 
these opponents. And their position recognizes that we want to 
maintain the second-strike capacity — not of just one, but of all 
major vehicle types in our strategic force: Minuteman, bombers, 
and Poseidon. 

In designing a second-strike force, there are excellent reasons 
for making it a substantial mixture of vehicles of several quite 
different types: land as well as sea-based, manned as well as un- 
manned, each with its own mode of protection. Such systems 


have differing limitations, are subject to varied and independent 
uncertainties, require distinct modes of attack and, if each type 
is protected, greatly complicate the attack. It is a serious matter, 
then, if a large part of this mixture is badly affected by changing 
adversary forces and technologies. The forces deployed and the 
state of the art available to the Russians will influence other parts 
of our strategic force than Minuteman silos. And ABM has a role 
to play, for example, in protecting the important fixed elements 
of a mobile force, including the politically responsible command 
centers. Preserving command, control and communications is 
always hard, and particularly so for mobile sea-based systems. 

My remarks, however, center, so far as the second-strike 
function of ABM is concerned, on the problem of protecting 
Minuteman. We have good cause to preserve the second-strike 
capability of so large a proportion of our strategic force. Even if 
it were true that the United States needed only a few strategic 
vehicles surviving, buying and paying for the operation of a great 
many that had become vulnerable to attack would be a very poor 
way to obtain those few surviving. There are safer and cheaper 
ways of getting a force of a given size than to buy a much larger 
one, most of which is susceptible to annihilation. 

How does the planned timing of our ABM deployment com- 
pare to the date when it is reasonably likely that Russian offense 
technology could badly worsen the effectiveness of our projected 
Minuteman III? The first point to note is that the proposed Safe- 
guard deployment has extended lead times. It can stretch out 
further if continuing review of intelligence suggests it should, 
but the shortest schedule calls for completing this program early 
in 1976. If, as ABM opponents stress in other connections, there 
is likely to be a substantial shakedown period, we are talking of 
1977 or later. If, as has been suggested, we delay decision for an- 
other year or more and then proceed to design and develop an 
entirely new ABM, we are talking of the 1980' s. 

Second, predicting exact calendar dates at which technolo- 
gies will be available to adversaries and what their strategic 
significance will be is very hard, and we are not very good at it. 
Moreover, we have erred not only on the side of overestimating 
Russian capabilities, but often by underestimating them. At earlier 
dates we were surprised by the rapid Soviet achievement of the 
A-bomb, the H-bomb, advanced jet engines, long-range turbo- 
prop bombers, airborne intercept radars, and large-scale fissile- 


material production. And scientists have been surprised, not only 
military men.^ 

Third, the public discussion has not stressed how sensitively 
the accuracy of attack affects the viability of the hardened force 
attacked. Accuracy affects the number of weapons required to 
destroy a hard target very much more than the bomb yield or the 
overpressure resistance of the target. Roughly speaking, for such 
targets, improving accuracy by a factor of slightly more than two 
is the same as increasing bomb yield tenfold and serves essentially 
to offset a tenfold increase in overpressure resistance. 

I have tried to reconstruct various numerical proofs recently 
presented or distributed to the Congress that purport to show that 
Minuteman will be quite safe without any extra protection; these 
proofs depend heavily on optimistic estimates of limitations in 
Russian delivery accuracies, reliabilities, and associated offense 
capabilities and sometimes on very poor offense tactics.' Suppose, 
however, that by 1976 when Safeguard is deployed, or by 1977 
when it may be shaken down, the Russians have: 

1. accuracies like those of the systems we are deploying now^ 

2. over-all reliabilities currently attributable to them 

3. methods familiar to us for using extensive and timely infor- 
mation as to which missiles have failed so that others can 
replace them 

4. continued production of SS-9 boosters at past rates 

5. modest numbers of MIRV's per booster (e.g., the three five- 
megaton reentry vehicles stated by Secretary Laird for the SS- 

Then the percentage of the Minuteman force that would be 
destroyed, if undefended, comes to about ninety-five percent. 

These results are based on quite moderate assumptions about 
Russian capabilities. Better accuracies, for example, may be ex- 
pected in the late 1970' s, and higher degrees of MIRVing. Re- 
liabilities of any given offense missile system improve with use. 
Do those who favor a hardpoint defense but would postpone a 
start really consider these Russian capabilities I have outlined 
"extremely implausible"? Or at all implausible? 

There is a striking inconsistency in the way ABM opponents 
treat the Chinese and the Russians. In contemplating the possibili- 
ty of a Russian offense against our Minuteman, they assume that 
Russians who cannot by 1976 or 1977 — twenty years after Sput- 
nik—do what we know how to do now. When considering the 


ability of the Chinese to penetrate an ABM defense, they attribute 
to them penetration systems that cost us many billions of dollars, 
a dozen years of trials and many failures to develop, and they 
assume this for the first generation Chinese missiles. These are 
rather backward Russians and very advanced Chinese. Moreover 
since in the Russian case we are considering a potential threat to 
our second-strike capability and we want this to be highly reliable, 
we want particularly to avoid underestimating the threat. But we 
should undertake a modest defense of population if it works in 
the expected case, even if on extremely pessimistic assumptions 
it might not. Here again it seems to me the ABM critics get things 
exactly backwards. 

Finally, the fact that such impending developments in Russian 
offense may make it necessary to do something more to protect 
the fixed elements of our force should come as no surprise. It was 
the sensitive effects of missile inaccuracy that in the early 1950' s 
suggested to the original proponents of programs for hardening 
strategic vehicles against ICBM attack that 

a. hardening would be an important and effective method of 
protection against ICBM attack in the 1960's; and that 

b. by itself hardening would not be adequate for much past the 

The ICBM's then expected in the 1960's were, of course, 
enormously faster than manned bombers, and therefore would 
out-mode some programs that served very well in the 1950's; 
but the early ICBM's were likely to be much less accurate than 
the manned bombers. They were expected to have inaccuracies 
measured in miles, perhaps, it seemed then, as large as five miles, 
compared to the quarter of a nautical mile or fifteen hundred feet 
median miss distance associated with manned bombers. Since 
just doubling inaccuracy could affect weapons requirements by 
a factor of four, hardening clearly seemed a good idea. The paper 
proposing hardening for the 1960's was entitled "Defending a 
Strategic Force after 1960" and was put out on February 1, 1954. 
That paper included a very short section called "After After 1960" 
that is quite relevant for understanding why we should expect 
that we will have to adapt the current Minuteman to impending 
changes in opposing offense technology. The section read in full: 

The foregoing also suggests that even against the bal- 
listic missile this defense would have a finite life. The 


missile might improve drastically in accuracy and pay- 
load. However, the date at which the Russians will have 
a missile capable of carrying a 25 MT bomb with a 1500 
ft. CEP [circular error probable] appears sufficiently far 
removed to make the defense good, let's say, until the 
end of the Sixties (p. 91). 

That the numbers cited in this paper of February 1954 so closely 
match some of those being talked of for the SS-9 is, of course, 
purely a coincidence. They were performance characteristics of 
bombers then current. However, the quotation illustrates that, 
from the outset, it was to be expected that sooner or later and 
probably in the 1970' s, hardening would not be enough by itself. 
The discussion also suggests that to depend merely on further 
hardening would make the system vulnerable to further improve- 
ments in accuracy. 

Hardening can be outpaced by further development in pre- 
cision. This does not mean that for some possible threats a com- 
bination of ABM and extreme hardening might not be useful. It 
might. But as a complete substitute for ABM extreme hardening 
has drawbacks. It is subject, in my opinion, to much larger un- 
certainties as to both performance and costs than the ABM. 

The major components of the Safeguard system have received 
elaborate study and testing. Ideas for brand new ABM systems 
to defend hard points that I am familiar with are not serious 
competitors in this time period. We should start deploying the 
system now on the schedule suggested and we should expect, as 
in the case of every other offense and defense system, that we 
shall learn a great deal from operational experience, make some 
changes and retrofits. This seems to me a sound way to supplement 
the protection of the Minuteman in a period when we can expect 
it to be endangered. 


In preparing the preceding portion of this chapter on the role 
of ABM in the 1970's, I undertook to review and test my past 
views on the subject and once again to form my own independent 
judgment. I, therefore, did not rely on calculations of either the 
government or its critics. I took the relevant classified and public 
data and performed my own analysis. 


The kind of analysis involved in obtaining a protected and 
responsible strategic force has been my principal concern for 
eighteen years starting with the study that gave rise to the first- 
strike/ second-strike distinction and to a good many other con- 
cepts and modes of protecting and controlling strategic forces cited 
by both sides in the present debate. The ABM has other functions 
that I support, but my chapter in the space available focused on 
its role in defending Minuteman. As I stressed there, these are 
complex and intrinsically uncertain matters. Where scientists 
differ on them, laymen may be tempted simply to throw up their 
hands and choose to rely on the authority of those scientists they 
favor. I feel, however, that the substantive differences among the 
scientists, if carefully explained, are quite accessible to interested 
readers and that such careful explanation can help them form 
their own judgment as to which conclusions are sound. 

On the Safely of Minuteman 

In my statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee 
on April 23, 1 said, "I have tried to reconstruct various numerical 
proofs recently presented or distributed to the Congress that 
purport to show our Minuteman will be safe without any extra 
protection; these proofs depend heavily on optimistic estimates 
of limitations in Russian delivery accuracies, reliabilities, associat- 
ed offense capabilities, and sometimes on poor offense tactics." 
In response to questions from members of the Committee, I 
illustrated several troubles with these attempted proofs of the 
safety of Minuteman, but there was no time to explain their de- 
fects adequately. I would like to try to do that now, and to com- 
ment specifically on the calculations of Dr. Rathjens, Dr. Lapp, and 
of the Federation of American Scientists. Some of the comments, 
particularly those of Dr. Lapp, bear also on some unevidenced 
statements on this subject by Prof. Chayes and Dr. Panofsky and, 
more recently, by Dr. Wiesner. 

Though my own calculations were based on classified as well 
as public data, my summary of results, like that of Dr. Rathjens, 
was unclassified and so are the comments I am about to make. 
This will prevent explicit specification of some of the numbers 
assumed by Dr. Rathjens and by myself and inevitably it forces 
some roundaboutness of expression. I am able to state, for ex- 
ample, that Dr. Rathjens and I assume the same accuracy for the 
Russian SS-9 in the mid- and late 1970's. I can say that the SS-9 


is now expected (and, before the Nixon Administration, was 
expected) to achieve that accuracy years in advance of this late 
time period. And I can say, as Dr. Rathjens did, that the accuracy 
we have assumed for the Russians, in this late time period, is 
essentially the same as that estimated for our own MIRV carrying 
missiles, namely Poseidon and Minuteman III.' But I cannot say 
what that accuracy is. 

I, therefore, submitted a classified statement in which the 
essential numerical assumptions are explicit and related to intel- 
ligence estimates. However, even without the classified state- 
ments, some essential defects of the calculations of Dr. Rathjens, 
Dr. Lapp, and the Federation of American Scientists can be made 

Dr. Rathjens' Calculations 

Dr. Rathjens has stated, "Even if the Soviet SS-9 missile 
force were to grow as rapidly as the Defense Department's most 
worrisome projections, even if the Soviet Union were to develop 
and employ MIRV's with those missiles and even if they achieved 
accuracies as good as we apparently expect with our MIRV forces 
(according to figures released in late 1967 by former Deputy Secre- 
tary of Defense Nitze), a quarter of our Minuteman force could be 
expected to survive a Soviet preemptive SS-9 attack. That quarter 
alone would be more than enough to inflict unacceptable damage 
on the U.S.S.R."!" 

My own parallel calculations for the mid- and late 1970's, 
using what I described as moderate assumptions, show about 
five percent surviving. What explains the difference? Since Dr. 
Rathjens and I compared notes on April 22, 1 am able to fix quite 
precisely where we agreed and where we differed. 

Our assumptions agreed in the accuracy assumed for the SS-9, 
in the overall reliability rate, in the numbers of SS-9 boosters (500) 
and in the use of several independently aimed reentry vehicles in 
each booster. Our assumptions differed on three key points: in the 
degree of blast resistance assumed for our Minuteman silos, in the 
yield of the Russian reentry vehicles, and in the use or non-use by 
the Russians of substantial information about what missiles are 
unready at launch or fail in early stages. 

On the first point, I have explained that Dr. Rathjens assumed 
that Minuteman silos were two-thirds more blast resistant than 
I did, and two-thirds more blast resistant than they are officially 


estimated to be. He derived his assumption by reading several 
points off an unclassified chart showing the probability of a 
Minuteman silo being destroyed as a function of accuracy for 
various bomb yields. Then by using standard rules for weapons 
effects he inferred the overpressure resistance of Minuteman silos. 
However, the curves on the unclassified chart cannot be correctly 
read to imply the overpressure resistance Dr. Rathjens infers. His 
reading of the curves was in error. 

Second, I assumed three 5-megaton reentry vehicles for 
each SS-9, as in Secretary Laird's public statements. Dr. Rathjens 
assumed four 1-megaton reentry vehicles. More than four reentry 
vehicles can be fitted on the SS-9, if the payload is only one mega- 
ton. However, the three 5-megaton reentry vehicles, given the 
accuracy we both assume, and given the actual blast resistance 
of the Minuteman, do enough for the attacker. Using his lower 
Russian bomb yield and his overestimated Minuteman blast re- 
sistance. Dr. Rathjens derived a probability of about sixty percent 
that one arriving Russian reentry vehicle would destroy one 
Minuteman silo. If he had used the officially estimated 5-megaton 
reentry vehicle and the actual blast resistance of the Minuteman 
silo, the probability would have been nearly ninety -nine percent. 
If he had used three 5-megaton reentry vehicles per booster for 
the SS-9 and the correct estimate for blast resistance, he would 
have found only sixteen percent, instead of twenty-five percent of 
the Minuteman force surviving. Alternatively, if he had used the 
classified estimates of the number of 1-megaton reentry vehicles 
that can be fitted on an SS-9 booster, his calculations would have 
shown about 7.3 percent surviving. The combined significance 
of these first two points of difference between Dr. Rathjens and 
myself is then considerable. 

The third point of difference between our calculations is that 
Dr. Rathjens assumes that the Russians would have to salvo all of 
their missiles with no information as to which had been unready 
or failed in time to be discovered, or at any rate with no use of 
such information. However, it is familiar that better methods are 
available and are of considerable utility for an offense that wants to 
assure a very high percentage of destruction of the force attacked. 
Most missiles that are counted as "unreliable" (excluded from the 
figure of overall reliability) are either not ready for launch or fail at 
launch, and this information can be made available immediately. 
A substantial additional fraction that fail do so at burnout, and 
information as to whether burnout velocity is within expected 






Difference Between Assumptions 
Dr. Rathjens and Myself 

Used by 

Number of SS-9's 

: Same (500) 

Over-all reliability 

: Same 


: Same 



( Dr. Ratbjens' 
( Mine 

2/3 higher than 
official estimate 
Official estimate 

SS-9 payload 

^ Dr. Ratbjens' 
) Mine 

4 reentry vehicles at 
1 MT (less than 
SS-9 capability) 
. 3at 5 MT(SS-9 

Use of partial 
information on 
missile malfunctions 

Dr. Rathjens' 

: Not used 
: Used 

Effect of Assumptions on 
Minuteman Survivability 

Dr. Rathjens' result 

Adjust for correct Minuteman blast resis- 
tance and three 5 MT M 1 RV per SS-9 

Alternatively adjust for correct Minuteman 
blast resistance and number of 1 MT MIRV 
warheads the SS-9 is capable of carrying 

Using correct Minuteman blast resistance, 
three 5 MT MIRV per SS-9, and informa- 
tion as to missile jnalfunctions before or 
during launch only 

Using con^ct Minuteman blast resistance, 
the correct number of 1 MT warheads per 
SS-9, and information as to missile mal- 
functions before and during launch only 

Using correct Minuteman blast resistance 
and either the 5 MT MIRV or the I MT 
MIRV option, and information as to mis- 
sile malfunctions including one-half those 
that fail after launch 






The table above summarizes the differences between Dr. Rathjens' 
and my calculations. 


tolerances can also be made quickly available. For radio-guided 
missiles this is almost automatic, but inertial systems can also 
radio this information back, as the telemetering in a missile flight 
test program shows. Later flight information is also feasible. 
While some fraction of the failures will remain unknown, a large 
proportion can be known. Therefore, instead of salvoing all extra 
missiles blindly, to make up for all unreadiness and all failures 
without knowing where they occur, one can reprogram some 
extra missiles to replace the large proportion of known failures. 
Using a current planning factor for the proportion of the unreliable 
missiles that cannot be replaced on the basis of timely information, 
the calculations using three 5-megaton reentry vehicles show 
considerably greater destruction. Instead of sixteen percent 
surviving, the approximate five percent survival that I mentioned 
previously results. It should be observed that this ability of 
the 5MT force to destroy five percent of the Minuteman force 
presumes that only about one-half the failures after launching are 
replaced — a figure well within the state of the art. Moreover, even 
limiting the use of information to missile malfunctions before or 
during launch, the 5MT MIRV force would leave only eight or 
nine percent surviving. 

Finally, such techniques of using substantial timely informa- 
tion as to which missiles cannot be relied on are less important for 
cases where smaller yields and larger numbers of reentry vehicles 
per booster are used. For the 1-megaton multiple reentry vehicle 
case I have referred to, the expected number of Minutemen surviv- 
ing reduces from approximately 7.3 percent without using such 
techniques, to five percent using them. The errors in Dr. Rathjens' 
calculations are not amended simply by taking into account the 
possibility of reprogramming. 

Dr. Lapp's Calculations 

Dr. Ralph Lapp's calculations were not presented at a Senate 
Hearing. However, one set of his calculations was presented as 
a two page appendix to his statement called "The Case Against 
Missile Defense," and they were featured in front page stories early 
in April in leading newspapers, describing Dr. Lapp as science 
advisor to the Senate opposition. These calculations attacking the 
credibility of a threat to the Minuteman itself apparently achieved 
widespread credence. They contain several grave errors, some of 
which have been pointed out independently by myself on April 


23, 1969, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, by Dr. 
Lawrence O'Neill before the House Armed Services Committee, 
and by Professor Eugene Wigner before the American Physi- 
cal Society on April 29th. Yet these statements pointing out Dr. 
Lapp's errors have received little or no newspaper notice. It is 
therefore worth reviewing Dr. Lapp's calculations, particularly so 
since one of his most blatant errors appears to have been adopted 
uncritically by some of the other witnesses before the Committee, 
specifically Professor Chayes and Dr. Panofsky." 

Dr. Lapp states that his calculations are based on "maximum 
values" for Soviet capabilities. He shows seventy-six percent of 
the Minuteman surviving, compared to Dr. Rathjens' twenty-five 
and my five percent. Moreover, he has several assumptions that 
agree with my own: 

1. Three 5-megaton reentry vehicles per SS-9, and 

2. An accuracy estimate derived, like Dr. Rathjens', from 
public indications of the great precision of our Poseidon or 
Minuteman MIRV's. 

His combined assumptions about the yield and accuracy of an 
SS-9 reentry vehicle and the blast resistance of the Minuteman re- 
sult in very high probabilities that a single arriving reentry vehicle 
will destroy a Minuteman silo. 

He suggests that two and one-half warheads of 5-megaton 
power with a half nautical mile inaccuracy or CEP^^ are needed 
to destroy a 200 psi target with a ninety-five percent probability, 
and 1.1 warheads would have that probability if the CEP were 
a quarter of a nautical mile. In fact, using standard methods of 
calculation, at a half-mile inaccuracy, two warheads would yield 
a ninety-six percent destruction probability and at a quarter of 
a mile inaccuracy one warhead would have a more than ninety- 
nine percent probability of destroying a 200 psi target. Either 
Dr. Lapp's calculations are based on some rather exotic and 
unspecified method, or they are in error. But in any case it is ap- 
parent that, even using his methods, he derives a very high single 
shot kill probability, roughly comparable to my own. 

How then does Dr. Lapp's Minuteman force, faced by sup- 
posedly "maximum" Russian capabilities, come out so much 
better than even Dr. Rathjens' Minuteman force? First, Dr. Lapp 
assumes a much smaller number of SS-9's than Dr. Rathjens and 
I. He assumes three hundred thirty-three SS-9's. This is hardly a 
maximum force. It is less than the number that would be produced 


at past rates by continuing production into the relevant 1976-77 
time period. At three reentry vehicles per booster. Dr. Lapp's 
assumption would give the Russians about one thousand reentry 

Second, he assumes that the Russians would use only three- 
fourths of their SS-9 force, that is, about two hundred fifty SS-9's 
(or 750 reentry vehicles). This extraordinary failure to use a fourth 
of the force most adapted to the purpose of destroying Minuteman 
is attributed to a supposed universal rule that military strategists 
always keep forces in reserve. This may or may not be true for tank 
battles or aircraft attacks in a conventional war. (The June 1967 
war in the Middle East suggests it is not a sound generalization 
even about attacks with aircraft at the start of a non-nuclear war.) 
But as a universal rule for a nuclear first-strike? Dr. Lapp does not 
say for what these SS-9's would be reserved. 

Most important. Dr. Lapp forgets that the Soviet Union has a 
great many intercontinental missiles besides the SS-9 and exceed- 
ing the SS-9 in numbers by a large amount. These missiles would 
seem to furnish a reserve that might satisfy a military strategist. 

Third, he assumes overall reliabilities that are quite a bit 
lower than the reliabilities that Dr. Rathjens and I assumed, also 
lower than those attributed to the SS-9. As a result of the three 
assumptions, Dr. Lapp's Russians would have substantially 
less than half as many reliable arriving reentry vehicles as our 
thousand Minuteman silos. More than half the Minuteman force 
would then be untouched by SS-9 reentry vehicles. 

Finally, Dr. Lapp makes an assumption that is plainly ab- 
surd. He supposes that even though each warhead has a very 
high probability of destroying a single silo, "any military realist" 
would fire two of his outnumbered attacking reentry vehicles at 
each silo that is attacked. This would leave three-fourths of the 
silos untouched. But if each warhead has a ninety-nine percent 
probability of destroying a single silo, firing two at one silo would 
merely increase the probability of destroying that specific silo to 
99.99% but would make it quite certain that a silo that could have 
been destroyed will go unscathed. If a more sensible tactic were 
followed, namely to fire each of the two missiles at a different silo, 
there would be a probability of ninety-eight percent of destroying 
both silos and a probability of 99.99% that at least one of the two 
would be destroyed. (This latter is the same probability that Dr. 
Lapp would have achieved against the specific one that he was 
aiming at.) In short. Dr. Lapp's tactic would greatly reduce the 


expected level of destruction achieved by the attack, and it would 
not increase the probability of achieving some minimum level of 
destruction. I know of no military realist who would regard Dr. 
Lapp's tactic as a sensible one for the attacker. I must agree with 
Dr. Wigner that Dr. Lapp has presumed that his adversary would 
be unbelievably stupid. 

It should be observed that the absurdity of the tactic is not 
dependent on the roughly ninety-nine percent single shot kill 
probability implicit in Dr. Lapp's accuracy, yield and resistance 
assumptions. If one were to use a ninety-five percent shot destruc- 
tion probability, the point is equally obvious. In this latter case, an 
adversary who assigned one missile to each of two targets would 
have a better than ninety percent chance of getting them both and 
a probability of 99%% of getting at least one; and he could get 
no better than a 99%% probability of getting one silo if he sent 
both missiles against one silo. In the latter case, however, he could 
destroy at most one silo. 

Professor Chayes and Dr. Panofsky have made statements 
suggesting they also accept the principle of sending at least two 
missiles to each silo. Professor Chayes said in his statement to the 
Senate Armed Services Committee on April 23: 

... it is agreed that the attacker would need at the very 
minimum 2,000 accurate warheads — two for every one 
of our silos — before being able to think about a first 

Professor Panofsky in his statement to the Senate Armed Services 
Committee on April 22 stated: 

Moreover, an attacker would have to compensate for the 
limited reliability of his force by targeting at least two 
and possibly more warheads against each of the 1,000 
Minuteman silos. 

The reason behind these two statements is less explicit than 
Dr. Lapp's. Dr. Panofsky is talking about compensating for un- 
reliability rather than inaccuracy, but it seems plain that no such 
universal rule makes sense. 

Dr. Lapp has a second set of calculations published on May 
4, 1969, in The New York Times Magazine}^ There he assumes the 
Russians may have five hundred rather than three hundred thirty- 


three SS-9's. Since he again assumes three reentry vehicles per 
booster, this makes a total of 1,500 reentry vehicles. He apparently 
avoids the obviously bad strategies of reserving a quarter of the 
force, and then using the remainder to attack only half the targets 
they are capable of destroying with high probability. Nonetheless, 
once again his calculations show very high survival rates: "500 to 
750 operable Minuteman." With these changed assumptions, how 
does the outcome continue to remain so favorable to Minuteman' s 

Dr. Lapp has made some other changes. He has reduced the 
yield of the SS-9 reentry vehicles by twenty percent, increased 
his estimate of the hardness of the Minuteman by fifty percent, 
and, most important, he now uses very large inaccuracies for the 
SS-9, 3,600 feet in one case and 5,500 feet in the other. The latter 
great inaccuracy assures him his seven hundred fifty operable 
Minuteman surviving. But there is no justification for assuming 
such great inaccuracies in the mid- and late 1970's. One of the 
few constants in Dr. Lapp's various calculations appears to be his 

Calculations of Dr. Steven Weinberg and Dr. Jerome Wiesner (in ABM: 
An Evaluation of the Decision to Employ an Anti-Ballistic Missile 
System, edited by Abram Chayes and Jerome Wiesner, New York, 

Dr. Weinberg and Dr. Wiesner present variants of the same 
calculation to show the safety of the Minuteman force. Dr. Wein- 
berg supposes that at least 2,100 reliable arriving reentry vehicles 
"with megaton yield and high accuracy" would be needed to des- 
troy all but 42 of our 1,050 ICBM silos. He appears to assume an 
eighty percent single shot kill probability. Dr. Weinberg doesn't 
indicate the exact blast resistance, yield, and inaccuracy assump- 
tions that go into his eighty percent hypothetical kill probability, 
and the testimony of Deputy Secretary Packard that he cites in 
that connection offers no basis for such a determination.^* Mr. 
Packard there shows for three different bomb yields a spectrum 
of probabilities varying from less than ten percent to one hundred 
percent as accuracy varies from a mile or so down below one- 
tenth of a mile. Mr. Packard does not say what the accuracy of 
any SS-9 reentry vehicle is expected to be so that no specific single 
shot kill probability can be inferred from his testimony. 


Dr. Wiesner assumes five hundred reliable SS-9's, each carry- 
ing three MIRV's; or more exactly fifteen hundred reliable MIRV's. 
And he also assumes an eighty percent kill probability for each 
arriving reentry vehicle. He justifies this with the statement that 
a 5-megaton reentry vehicle would have to be used and that "at 
best the MIRV guidance system will be accurate enough to give 
only a 0.8 kill probability for the unit."^^ One can read directly 
from Deputy Secretary Packard's chart that Dr. Wiesner is thus 
implying that accuracies less than about 2,400 feet are not possible 
in the time period in question. Dr. Wiesner has given no technical 
argument to support this assertion; it is at variance with expected 
accuracies for our own MIRV systems, and it is at variance with 
the accuracy that the intelligence community has for some time 
expected the SS-9 to achieve years before the late 1970's time 
period, and with the accuracy assumed by Dr. Rathjens. At the 
5-megaton yield and with the expected SS-9 accuracy the single 
shot kill probability for each reliable arriving reentry vehicle 
would be very much higher than eighty percent as I have already 
pointed out elsewhere. 

If Dr. Wiesner had used three 5-megaton reentry vehicles, 
the expected accuracy of the SS-9's and, furthermore, had 
incorporated expected reliabilities, his calculations would have 
shown only sixty-three out of 1,100 hard targets surviving, that 
is 5.7%. Or if he had used the expected accuracy and reliabilities 
and the number of 1-megaton vehicles deliverable by the SS-9, he 
would have arrived at substantially the same result: sixty-eight 
out of 1,100 surviving. 

There are a number of less critical flaws in Dr. Weinberg's 
and Dr. Wiesner' s calculations. The essential, however, is that 
they both assume combinations of accuracy, yield, and number of 
reentry vehicles per booster that are less effective than intelligence 
expects (and for some time has expected) of the SS-9. 

The Calculations of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), March 
8, 1969 

These calculations of the FAS were published nearly a week 
before the President's decision on the Safeguard System was an- 
nounced. The FAS statement was intended to refute in advance 
the need for extra protection of the Minuteman force. However, 
the calculations it presents are basically irrelevant since they use 
only the Russian force "at the present time," and they assume 


larger inaccuracies than intelligence attributes to the Russians' SS- 
9's for the later time period. They do not use MIRV's and in fact, 
according to their author, they do not use the SS-9 at all. 

In the first section of this chapter,^* I said that the many 
confident assertions current that Minuteman will be safe with- 
out extra protection in the late 1970's are unjustified. These sup- 
plementary comments have illustrated and analyzed some essen- 
tial flaws in these assertions: they depend on erroneous estimates 
about the blast resistance of our own forces or wishful estimates 
about Russian lacks either in accuracy or in other capabilities 
or in competent tactics in that time period; they do not, as they 
claim, use "the most worrisome projections" and the "maximum 
capabilities" for Russian forces. In fact even my own calcula- 
tions showing that the Minuteman will be vulnerable if extra 
protection is not provided do not use "maximum" Russian cap- 
abilities. Greater accuracies, for example, are quite feasible in the 
late 1970's for the Russians. I have used the CEP attributed to the 
SS-9 in the early 1970's. If the SS-9's CEP should be two-hundred 
fifty feet smaller than that estimate, then only four-hundred SS-9's 
using megaton range reentry vehicles would destroy about ninety 
five percent of the Minuteman force. Or with the larger force even 
greater percentages of the Minuteman force could be destroyed 
if we do nothing to supplement its protection. As I emphasized 
in my statement on April 23rd, the expected vulnerability of a 
hardened force is extremely sensitive to the accuracy of the force 
attacking. The accuracy assumed by Dr. Rathjens and myself is 
not only attributed to the SS-9 in the early 1970's, it is also the 
accuracy we estimate for our own MIRV's. Programs for achieving 
still greater accuracies for some of our MIRV's have been drawn 
up though not funded. 

I have focused on the problem of protecting Minuteman, 
because, as I have stressed, we need a mixed force and have 
good reason to preserve the second-strike capability of so large 
a proportion of our strategic force. Even if it were true that the 
United States needed only a few strategic vehicles to survive, 
buying and paying for the operation of a great many that had 
become vulnerable to attack would be a very poor way to obtain 
those few surviving. There are safer and cheaper ways of getting 
a force of a given size than to buy a much larger one, most of 
which is susceptible to annihilation. To maintain a force most of 
which could be used only in a first-strike, hardly contributes to 


It is sometimes said that such analyses of the potential vul- 
nerability of Minuteman are like the talk of the bomber gap in the 
early 1950's and the missile gap at the end of the 1950's. Noth- 
ing could be further from the truth. Most of those who talked of 
bomber gaps and missile gaps raised these possibilities to argue 
for expanding the number of our own bombers or missiles to close 
the gap. They thought of the problem as one of matching first- 
strike forces. But how to maintain a second-strike force cannot 
be adequately understood in these terms. Whether or not we 
have it depends, as I have said, not simply on the relative size of 
two opposing forces, but on a great many characteristics of the 
attacking force and of the force attacked and its protection. It is 
the opponents of the ABM today who, rather than defend the 
offense, would simply expand it. Moreover, many of these same 
opponents of the ABM were among the chief propounders of 
the missile and bomber gaps in the past; some scientists are now 
willing to state that they helped "create the myth of the missile 
gap." My own record on this matter is quite clear. Throughout 
the 1950's I pointed out the essential irrelevance of matching first- 
strike forces and of all the gap theories that flowed from such 
matching. For example, in 1956 I wrote: 

Exaggerated estimates of Russian force size, for exam- 
ple, might be used directly to suggest emulation. But we 
have already made clear that determining who has the 
best or second best Air Force in being in advance of at- 
tack by simply matching numbers or quality is not to 
the point. Those who assert that we may have fewer and 
perhaps inferior planes than the enemy and still have a 
deterrent force must also recognize that we may have 
more and even better vehicles and yet have inadequate 
deterrence. ^^ 

The propensity simply to list Russian and American pre-attack 
forces measured in various arbitrary ways continues to be ex- 
hibited on both sides of the present debate. On one side, first-strike 
capabilities are sometimes matched against adversary cities in the 
discussions of "overkill." On the other side, first-strike forces of 
Russia and the United States are sometimes matched against each 
other to show "superiority" or "inferiority" or "parity" or the like. 
My point is quite different. Foreseeable technical change in the 
1970's compels sober thought about improving the protection of 


crucial elements in our strategic force. Such change can affect our 
second-strike capability. In that connection, I have centered my 
discussion on the protection of the Minuteman, but the problem 
of protecting our bombers is also important, and, even more, we 
must improve our protection of the national political command 
vital to the control of sea as well as land-based strategic forces. 

ENDNOTES - Wohlstetter - The Case for Strategic Force 

1. This chapter constitutes a slightly edited version of my 
Statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, April 23, 
1969, and a supplement submitted on May 23, 1969. 

2. DoD Appropriations for 1969, Hearings, Part I. Financial Sum- 
mary. Expenditures in the 1950' s were not then broken down by 
mission, but strategic budgets were even higher in the late 1950's 
than in 1962. In constant prices, for example, 1959 was more than 
double 1970. 

3. ". . . First, an offense force with such increased accuracies 
and reliabilities and with an extensive use of MIRV's is very much 
more efficient in attacking the fixed offense force or the important 
fixed elements of the mobile force of an adversary. . . . Second, 
one result of this sort of change in Russian offense forces is to 
make improved antiballistic missiles (rather than simply more 
hardening or more missiles) an economic way for the United 
States to protect the hard fixed elements of a strategic force. . . . 
Third, at a minor increment in the modest cost of a hard-point 
ABM defense, it is possible to make available a light ABM for 
defense of civil societies against a small submarine or land-based 
missile force or part of a large one launched by mistake or without 
authorization. . . ." See Albert Wohlstetter, "Strength, Interest and 
New Technologies," Address to the September 1967 Institute 
of Strategic Studies Conference on the Implications of Military 
Technology in the 1970's at Elsinore, Denmark, in Adelphi Papers, 
No. 46, p. 4. 

4. See, for example, one of the first classic sources of Minimum 
Deterrence Doctrine: 1970 Without Arms Confro/, Special Committee 
Report, Planning Pamphlet No. 104, Washington, DC: National 
Planning Association, 1958, pp. 32-33, and 44. 


5. We have not been very good at predicting our own or our 
adversary's technologies. These matters are intrinsically uncertain. 
Eminent scientists at the end of the 1940's predicted that fusion 
weapons would be infeasible, and, if feasible, undeliverable, 
and, if delivered, of no strategic significance, since it was thought 
(erroneously) they could be used only against cities. Some of 
those who then thought the threat of fusion bombs against cities 
neither moral nor important strategically now take it to be both. 
Compare, for example, Hans Bethe's present views with those in 
"The Hydrogen Bomb," Scientific American, Vol. 182, No. 4, April 
1950, pp. 18-23. In February 1953 an important scientific study 
group expected the Soviets would have no ICBM's before the 
late I960' s — a prediction plainly in error by the end of the year. 
See the final report of the Lincoln Summer Study, among whose 
prominent members were James Killian, Jerome B. Wiesner and 
Carl Kaysen. Writing in October 1964, Jerome B. Wiesner and 
Herbert York, "National Security and the Nuclear Test Ban," 
Scientific American, Vol. 211, No. 4, October 1964, pp. 18, 27-35, 
were quite sure that no technological surprises could substantially 
change the operational effectiveness of intercontinental delivery 
systems, and thus entirely missed the major strategic potential of 
precisely aimed MIRV's, a concept that had already emerged in 
the classified literature. These were able and informed men. But 
exact prediction on these matters defies confident assertion. 

6. See [this essay's] next section, "ON THE COUNTERFORCE 
for elaboration. 

7. Poseidon and Minuteman III have been test flown and are in 
the process of deployment (the first of these should be operational 
in about a year and a half). 

8. This section is a slightly edited version of a May 23, 1969, 
supplement to my April 23, 1969, Statement to the Senate Armed 
Services Committee. 

9. See endnote 7 above. 


10. Testimony of April 23, 1969, before the Senate Armed 
Services Committee. See also Wohlstetter testimony of March 
28, 1969, Part 1, p. 359, of Strategic and Foreign Policy Implications 
of ABM Systems, Hearings before a subcommittee of the Senate 
Committee on Foreign Relations. 

11. It is an error that is repeated also in Abram Chayes and 
Jerome B. Wiesner, eds., ABM: An Evaluation of ike Decision to 
Deploy an Anti-ballistic Missile System, New York: Harper & Row, 

12. CEP is the acronym for "Circular Error, Probable," a 
commonly used measure of the inaccuracy of weapon systems. In 
repeated firings, 50% of the weapons would miss their targets by 
less than the CEP (or median miss distance) and 50% would miss 
by more than the CEP. A frequent misinterpretation assumes that 
all weapons miss their targets by a distance equal to the CEP — 
which is like assuming that all students score at the 50th percentile 
on an exam. A nautical mile is 6,080 feet. It, rather than a statute 
mile, is a standard dimension for measuring CEP or median miss 

13. Ralph E. Lapp, "From Nike to Safeguard: A Biography of 
the ABM," The New York Times Magazine, May 4, 1969. 

14. Chayes and Wiesner, eds., op. cit., pp. 86-93. 

15. Johan Hoist and William Schneider added the following 
commentary in 1969: Professor Wohlstetter's critique is based 
upon the manuscript version of the book which was distributed 
prior to its publication. In book form. Dr. Wiesner replaced the 
explicit .8 kill probability with a vague reference to an "accuracy 
estimated by Secretary Laird." In the manuscript, he incorrectly 
calculated (on the basis of a .8 kill probability) that 270 missiles 
would survive (the correct number is less than 150). The book 
version retains the "conclusion" of 270 survivors but does not 
make any explicit probability assumption — and thus now assumes 
a kill probability of about .65. See Chayes and Wiesner, eds., op. 
cit., p. 73. 


16. I.e., my testimony on April 23, 1969. 

17. Albert J. Wohlstetter and F. S. Hoffman, Protecting U.S. 
Power to Strike Back in the 1950's and 1960's, R-290, Santa Monica, 
CA: The RAND Corporation, September 1, 1956. 


Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back? (1976) 
Albert Wohlstetter^ 

From Defending America, New York: Basic Books, 1977, 
pp. 110-168. Copyright © 1977 Institute for Contempo- 
rary Studies. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a 
member of the Perseus Books Group. 

Not long ago the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which since 
1945 has kept time on the arms race, moved its famous clock 
ominously closer to midnight. The familiar reasoning is that 
American and Soviet negotiators at Geneva have failed to reach 
agreement on limiting strategic arms and so the race continues. 
The United States has forced the pace by overestimating the 
Soviet threat, and then, to play safe, spends more resources than 
are needed to meet even a menace so inflated. In this way we 
have given the U.S.S.R. no alternative than to react by spending 
in its own self-defense — which, in turn, we meet by still more 
"worst case" analyses, increased spending, and so on and on in 
the deadly "action-reaction cycle." The superpowers are engaged 
in a mortal contest, each provoking the other into piling up arms 
endlessly, wasting scarce resources, increasing the indiscriminate 
destructiveness of weapons, lessening rather than adding to their 
security, and moving the world closer to nuclear holocaust. 

Secretary of State Kissinger has recently adopted one variant 
of this reasoning that puts the blame on technology. He has said 
that military technology has developed a momentum of its own, is 
at odds with the human capacity to comprehend it, is simply out 
of control, or is in imminent danger of getting beyond political 
control. Thus we must restrain not only the number of arms but 
their qualitative improvement. For it seems that the very effort 
to design new and better techniques to protect ourselves against 
adversaries makes things worse for both sides and mankind. 

All this is familiar, but is it true? Is it true, for example, that 
we chronically overestimate what the Russians will deploy and 
that this is the source of an "action-reaction" chain, driving the 
Russians and ultimately ourselves to disaster? Whatever is the 
case for the Soviet strategic budgets and forces, has the United 
States in any clear sense been racing at all? Is it true, as is claimed, 
that U.S. technical innovation, in particular, has spurred us to 


higher and higher levels of strategic spending, destructiveness, 
and instability? 

In fact, none of this is true. Starting in the early 1960s, we 
systematically underestimated how much and how rapidly the 
Soviets would increase their strategic offense forces. Moreover, 
for an even longer time, our own spending on strategic forces 
has been "spiraling" down rather than up. U.S. strategic program 
budgets ("Program I" as it is called) in real terms fell from a 
plateau at the end of the 1950s that was three and a half times the 
present size. In fact, the peak in strategic spending occurred in 
fiscal year 1952 when the budget was about 4.25 times the fiscal 
1976 level (in 1976 U.S. dollars the strategic program budget in 
FY52 was 32.6 billion compared to 7.7 billion in FY76). Finally, 
the net effect of major innovations in our strategic force since the 
1950s was to reduce not only its cost but also its indiscriminate 
destructiveness, and its instability or vulnerability to attack. These 
actualities seem to contrast so sharply with the standard saying 
about Soviet- American competition that we need: 

First, to recall and document what the stereotypes about 
the strategic arms race have been; 

Second, to contrast the standard view that we chroni- 
cally overestimate Soviet offense deployments with the 
facts about what Soviet offense forces we predicted in 
the 1960s and how these predictions turned out; 

Third, to contrast the theory that our strategic spending 
has been going up with the actual declining costs; 

Fourth, to consider briefly the concrete effects of qualita- 
tive improvements on U.S. strategic forces and budgets. 

Finally, to ask how we could have been repeating ob- 
vious untruths for so long without embarrassment. An- 
swers to this last question must necessarily be specula- 
tive. I'll suggest some as I go along. 



The Standard View of the "Arms Race" 

Contemporary stereotypes about the strategic arms race 
resemble the arms-race doctrines of Lord Grey, Bertrand Russell, 
Lewis Fry Richardson, and other doctrines that flourished in 
England between two world wars and can be traced back at least to 
Cobden in the mid-nineteenth century. These doctrines suggested 
that each side in an arms race sees as a threat an increase in arms 
by the other side that is intended merely for defense. Lord Grey, 
who had been Foreign Minister when the Great War broke out, 

The increase of armaments, that is intended in each na- 
tion to produce consciousness of strength, and a sense of 
security, does not produce these effects. On the contrary, 
it produces a consciousness of the strength of other na- 
tions and a sense of fear. . . . The enormous growth of arma- 
ments in Europe, the sense of insecurity and fear caused 
by them — it was these that made war inevitable. 

, 2 

The Quaker physicist, Richardson, put such views into differential 
equations relating the rate of increase in defense budgets, on 
one side, to the level of spending on the other with a resulting 
exponential increase of budgets for both. 

The doctrines of the strategic "race" that have prevailed for 
more than 15 years add a few new twists to the old theory. First, 
they talk not simply of an exaggerated fear about the intent of 
an opponent in amassing armaments, but about exaggerated 
estimates of the size of these armaments and about plans to 
meet the opposing side's increase which would be overcautious 
(assuming the "worst case") even if the estimates of the range of 
possibilities were correct. Second, the British theorists between the 
wars adopted a certain Olympian even-handedness in describing 
the reciprocal fears generating the race. (Richardson talks of the 
mistaken fear of the "Minister of Jedesland [every country].") But 
current American doctrines, like revisionist history, frequently 
place on America the main responsibility for the rate and scale of 
the arms race. Third, the current doctrines stress the instabilities 
brought about by technology. And fourth, they locate the source 
of the race especially in efforts to defend civilians and destroy 


offensive military forces, and see the force driving the quantitative 
spiral to be not merely qualitative military change, but, in 
particular, improved technologies for destroying not people but 
weapons, whether in place or already on their way to target. This 
perverse doctrine, widely prevalent among theorists of the arms 
race since Sputnik, has been summarized by a sympathizer to the 
view in the "frosty apothegm": "Killing people is good; killing 
weapons is bad."^ 

Arms race dogma about "runaway technology," "exaggerated 
threats," "worst case analysis," "explosive increases," "uncapped 
volcanoes," "action-reaction," "treadmill to nowhere," etc., so 
pervades the statements on SALT and strategic interaction by 
Cabinet members. Congress and its staff, public interest lobbies, 
the academics, and the news media, that selecting a few out of a 
mass of citations may seem redundant; it risks bruising individual 

But as Leon Festinger, a student of apocalyptic prophecies, 
reminds us, prophets and their disciples often deny they meant 
what they said, or even that they said it. So also, the apocalyptic 
prophets of the race to nuclear oblivion, when confronted with an 
empirical test and refutation of their beliefs: they have responded 
by denying that they or anyone else hold the dogma.* Here then is 
a sample of views documenting the points challenged. 

Take the exaggerated threat "worst case" dynamic. In its 
more moderate form, this dogma holds that our planners have a 
systematic bias towards exaggerating — expecting our adversary 
to do more than he does — and that they compound this error by 
designing our force to meet a force greater than we expect — a 
"worst plausible case." It is this minimal form I show to be in 
error, not only the more obviously wrong extreme that talks of 
"invariable overestimation" or "worst possible case." 

Morton Halperin and Jeremy Stone, as if arguments can 
be directed only at the extreme, say the notion that "arms race 
analysts believe in a myth of invariable U.S. overestimation" is a 
"straw man." It is "obviously unlikely," they say, that "analysts 
believe anything is invariable." They want quotations. 

For the extreme, one can introduce the flesh and blood Jeremy 
Stone to the straw Jeremy Stone, who has written: 

The department invariably exaggerates the Soviet threat 
to obtain public and congressional support for weapons 
that will undermine the Soviet deterrent.^ 


And less or equally extreme: 

Jerome Wiesner — We always underestimate our own 
capabilities and overestimate those of the other fellow/ 

Leonard Rodberg — Even though the Soviets invariably 
lag far behind these predictions, our own programs go 
forward as if the forecasts were accurate.../ 

Herbert Scoville — We should not again fall into the trap 
of perennial, compulsive reaction to timeworn exagger- 
ated threats.* 

Leslie Gelb — The common practice, as I think we all 
know, has been to exaggerate and overdramatize.' 

Robert McNamara— ...a strategic planner must be "con- 
servative" in his calculations; that is, he must prepare for 
the worst plausible case.^" 

Stanley Hoffmann — The whole history of the postwar 
arms race is one of... preemptive escalation based on a 
worst case hypothesis which assumes the adversary's 
capacity and will to go ahead full speed." 

Paul Warnke— ... in determining relative strategic bal- 
ance, the other side, just as we do, must use worst case 
analysis.... They are not going to overestimate their po- 
tential and underestimate ours. If any, the error will be 
in the other direction. ^^ 

Such a belief is distinct from, but frequently associated with, a 
view that the United States is the catalyst for the race. Halperin 
and Stone observe sagely that the two views are distinct, but seem 
to doubt the currency of the second view as well. We might begin 
the list once more with a characteristically temperate quote from 

The Department of Defense has become an inventor and 
a merchandiser of exaggerated fears ... an unscrupulous 
lobbyist to get the weapons to answer these fears. Worst 


of all, through the action-and-reaction phenomenon, its 
aggressive pursuit of the arms race has greatly under- 
mined the security of the nation by unnecessarily stimu- 
lating Soviet efforts to keep up." 

Edgar Bottome — It is my contention that with minor ex- 
ceptions, the United States had led in the development of 
military technology and weapons production through- 
out the Cold War.... The Soviet Union has been placed 
in a position where all it could do was react to American 
initiatives in bomber or missile building programs. This 
American superiority, along with the highly ambitious 
nature of American foreign policy, has placed the United 
States in a position of being fundamentally responsible 
for every major escalation of the arms race.^* 

William Epstein — American scientists seem to have the 
edge in technology and to lead the way in developing 
new weapons, particularly in the nuclear field, but So- 
viet scientists follow close behind in the action-reaction 
chain. ^^ 

Bernard Feld — History guarantees that new American 
technology will certainly be followed ... by Soviet emula- 

Marshall Shulman — This commitment ... has led us to 
force the pace of the strategic arms race, and it inescap- 
ably leads to an uncontrolled military competition with 
the Soviet Union. ^^ 

John Newhouse — America's forces apparently served 
as both model and catalyst for the Russians.... Such is 
the action-reaction cycle as perceived by many scientists 
and bureaucrats." 

Newhouse adds that other scientists argue, "It is the impulse 
of technology, not an action-reaction cycle, that drives the arms 
race...." Most scientists in my collection see the impulse coming 
from us and technology. So, to quote Rodberg, "...we have used 
our own superior technology to drive the arms race forward."^' 
But the malign role of technology is particularly important in the 


dogma and deserves illustration. "Is Jerome Wiesner," Michael 
Nacht has demanded, choosing an evidently far-fetched case, "a 
modern-day Luddite?" Consider the following from a committee 
Wiesner headed: 

It is, after all the continuing competition to perfect and de- 
ploy new armaments that absorbs quantities of time, en- 
ergy, and resources that no static environment would 
demand; that exacerbates U.S. and Soviet relations with 
unreal considerations of strategic advantage or disad- 
vantage; that keeps political leaders in both great pow- 
ers off-balance and ill-prepared for far-reaching agree- 
ments; that fixes the attention of both sides on the most 
threatening aspects of the opposing posture; and, espe- 
cially, that provides heightened risks of a violent spasm 
of procurement — one spurring to new levels the cost, distrust, 
and the explosive dangers of an unending competition in arms 
(italics added). ^° 

The explosive dangers feared, Wiesner makes clear elsewhere, 
involve "an ever-increasing likelihood of war so disastrous that 
civilization, if not man himself, will be eradicated. "^^ Anyone who 
holds that military innovation has a. net bad effect (my definition 
of a Luddite in the military field) — let alone the effect of ultimate 
catastrophe — should want to impose general restraints on it. So, 
to quote Herbert York: 

The recent small successes in controlling the quantita- 
tive side of the arms race also call for renewed efforts 
to control its qualitative side, to slow down the rate of 
weapons innovation, and hence to reduce the frequency 
of introduction of ever more complex and threatening 
weapons. ^^ 

Examples could be multiplied. But we need not leave 
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Consider George Kistiakowsky and 
George Rathjens: 

... any understanding that slowed the rate of develop- 
ment and change of strategic systems would have an ef- 
fect in the right direction.^^ 


And take Harvey Brooks, who argues that "the most promising 
lines of action for controlling the qualitative arms race probably lie 
in mutually agreed limitations on testing," but also suggests agree- 
ments to forgo specific improvements and general declarations 
against destabilizing developments, even if both would be hard 
to interpret or verify — particularly "in closed societies."^* Even 
unverifiable agreements would provide arguments in internal 
bureaucratic debate to those who oppose such developments — at 
least in open societies. Or take Paul Doty: 

... even better would be the adoption of a generalized 
set of restraints that would slow the whole development 
and deployment process. ^^ 

These would have an effect in the right direction, if qualitative 
change has a net bias toward making strategic forces more costly, 
more indiscriminately destructive, more vulnerable, and harder to 
control. But if not, you wouldn't slow things down generally. Nor 
try merely to stop "unfavorable" developments (always a good 
idea). You would encourage the development with all deliberate 
speed of technologies that reduce costs, increase discrimination, 
and make forces less vulnerable and easier to control. 

I will present evidence that, whatever the false starts and 
mistakes in detail, the net effects of our major technological 
choices from the 1950s to the present were exactly the reverse of 
the Luddite stereotype. Generalized restraints would have been a 
bad idea. 


U.S. Predictions and Soviet Realities 

Systematic or even invariable overestimation need not lead 
to an arms spiral. If one's aim to counter a given threat is made 
extremely costly by expected adversary moves, because the 
threat is very large and the advantage is all on the other side, the 
game may not be worth the candle. This was in fact Secretary 
McNamara's chief argument against undertaking a thick ABM 
defense against the Soviets. In short, the larger the threat, the 
more futile a response may seem. The logic that overestimating an 
adversary drives one to race him is not compelling. Nonetheless, 
it is important to ask whether the U.S. government has in 


fact systematically overestimated Soviet missile and bomber 
deployments — an assertion central to the dogma of a spiral driven 
by exaggerated estimates and mistaken fear. 

The "missile gap," as is well known, was a U.S. overestimate 
after Sputnik of the number of intercontinental ballistic missile 
(ICBM) launchers that the Russians would deploy in the early 
1960s. Indeed, the trauma of discovering the error formed the basis 
of many of Mr. McNamara's generalizations about our tendency 
to exaggerate and then to respond to anticipated larger threats 
rather than to what the Soviet leaders actually turned out to do. 
The missile gap has also generated a substantial confessional 
literature on the part of current proponents of the doctrine of an 
explosive arms race about their own role in creating the myth of 
the missile gap, and a substantial academic industry in doctoral 
theses and articles explaining this particular overestimate and the 
supposedly general and plainly evil habit of overestimating. A 
few comments, therefore, are in order on the missile gap before 
making a broader test of the habit. (Perhaps it is worth saying 
that I am on record, before and after Sputnik, as having steadily 
opposed evaluating force effectiveness on the basis of bomber or 
missile gaps.) 

First, the "missile gap," a brief period in which the Soviets 
were expected to but did not deploy ICBMs more rapidly than we 
did, was an ICBM gap rather than a general missile gap. During the 
same period, in fact, we regularly and greatly underestimated the 
number of intermediate and medium range ballistic missile (IRBM/ 
MRBM) launchers that the Russians would deploy at the end of 
the 1950s and in the early 1960s. For example, our underestimate 
of the number of IRBM and MRBM launchers that the Russians 
would deploy by 1963 roughly offset our overestimate of the 
number of ICBM launchers they would deploy. In short, we 
misunderstood or reversed the priorities the Russians assigned 
to getting capabilities against the European as distinct from the 
North American part of NATO. This piece of ethnocentrism 
on our part was characteristic. We also greatly underestimated 
Soviet aircraft systems directed primarily at Europe rather than 

Second, predicting the size and exact mixture of a potential 
adversary's weapon deployments several years hence is a 
hard line of work. It is intrinsically uncertain, reversible by the 
adversary himself between the time of prediction and the actual 
deployment. Moreover, an adversary may want his opponent to 


estimate wrongly, either up or down. In the specific case of the 
missile gap, Khrushchev did what he could to make the U.S. and 
the rest of the world believe that the Soviets had a larger initial 
program of ICBMs than they actually had; and he succeeded. 

Whatever the source and nature of our misestimation, it 
helped generate the belief that we invariably expect the Russian 
programs to be larger than they turn out to be, that we compound 
this overestimate by deliberately designing our programs to meet 
a Russian threat that is greater even than the one we expect, and 
then, when the Russian threat turns out to be less rather than 
greater than expected, the damage is done; the overlarge U.S. 
force is already a reality or irreversibly committed. 

It is a good idea, then, to subject to systematic test this 
claim of regular overestimation. It is a major element of the 
current dogma, repeated endlessly since 1961. In fact, the nearly 
universal acceptance of this belief has emerged from constant 
repetition of tags like "the mad momentum," "we have invariably 
overestimated" or "we are running a race with ourselves," etc., 
rather than from any systematic numerical comparison with 
reality.^'' Figures 1 to 3 sum up^^ the results of a search for all of 
the long-term predictions of Soviet strategic missile and bomber 
deployment that could be found in the annual presentation of 
programs and budgets to Congress by the Secretary of Defense 
from the start of 1962 to the start of 1972, and a comparison of 
these predictions with what the Russians actually deployed by 
mid-1972 — the last date referred to in the predictions that could 
be checked at the time the analysis was completed. 

Aside from their comparative accessibility, several reasons 
governed the choice of these predictions from the Defense 
Secretaries' formal statements, rather than from Army, Navy, 
Air Force, CIA, Bureau of Intelligence Research in State, or other 

First, during this extended period the Secretary of Defense 
did, regularly, every year, make predictions precise enough 
to be proved wrong and precise enough for measuring how 
much they had missed the mark. The possibility of determining 
error here requires not only that the predictions be specific as 
to time and quantity, and not excessively hedged by "might" 
or "may conceivably," but also that the adversary realities 
referred to in the predictions be open to observation and highly 
reliable measurement by the U.S. after the fact. Not all objects 
nor all characteristics predicted nor all predictors meet these 
requirements. Far from it. 


Second, these predictions of the Secretary of Defense form a 
well-defined, substantial population of estimates — which is not 
the case for intelligence predictions in general. 

Third, these estimates were presented as authoritative and 

Fourth, they were given particular prominence in the 
programming and budgeting process by the fact that the Secretary 
used them directly to support his program. And finally these 
particular forecasts relate directly to the Secretary's judgment and 
that of the Congress on the five-year defense program. They are 
therefore most relevant for analyzing possible relations between 
defense programs and defense budgets and the impetus these 
programs might be given by forecasts as to the future enemy 
force deployments. Defense systems take many years to become 
operational, and the forces they will confront are necessarily the 
subject only of long-term conjecture. In presenting these estimates 
the Secretary emphasized this point. For example, in 1963 he 

Because of the long leadtimes involved in making these 
weapon systems operational, we must plan for our forces 
well in advance of the time when we will need them and, 
indeed, we now project our programs at least five years 
ahead of the current budget year. For the same reason 
we must also project our estimates of the enemy's forces 
at least five years into the future, and for some purposes, 
even beyond. These longer range projections of enemy 
capabilities are, of course, highly conjectural, particular- 
ly since they deal with a period beyond the production 
and deployment lead-times of enemy weapon systems. 
Therefore, we are, in effect, attempting to anticipate pro- 
duction and deployment decisions which our opponents, 
themselves, may not yet have made. This fact should be 
borne in mind as we discuss the intelligence estimates 
and our own programs based on them.^^ 

The first eight charts. Figures la to Ih, compare U.S. 
predictions of Soviet ICBM launchers to be deployed with the 
actuality as estimated after the fact.^' The vertical arrows indicate 
the date at which the prediction was made (e.g., February 1962 in 
Figure la). The dashed line or lines indicate the range from high 
to low of what was predicted (in Figure la, a high of 650 and a low 


of 350, by inid-1967, five and a half years later). Later projections 
usually included (as in Figure lb) a high and a low for more than 
one year. This is shown in the shaded portion. The steeply rising 
solid line which is the same in all the charts shows the number the 
Russians actually completed, as estimated after the fact. 

Though the claim about invariable overestimation posits that 
at least the middle of the range between high and low always 
exceeds the reality, it will be apparent that even the high end of the 
range seldom did that, and then only at the start of the period — and 
even then just barely. For ICBMs the "highs" reached as high as 
reality only twice in 11 times. The prediction made in 1965 (Figure 
Id) is typical. Figures 2 and 3 illustrate analogously typical long- 
run predictions of future Soviet submarine-launched missiles 
deployed and future Soviet bomber deployments. The middle 
of the predicted range of the number of sub-launched missiles 
deployed was about three-quarters of the eventual reality. In the 
case of the bombers, we continued to believe that the Russians 
were going to phase them down and most drastically in the case 
of the medium bombers; but the Soviets never came down to our 
expectations. Tables 1 and 2 sum up some principal results. Out 
of 51 predictions, the low end of the range never exceeded the 
actual; the mean between the high and low exceeded it only twice 
in 51 times; our highs reached reality only nine times! Hardly a 
record of overestimation. Moreover, the ratios of projected-to- 
realized future values of the Soviet strategic force in operation 
display the fact that the underestimates were very substantial and 
that even the average of the highs was under the reality. It will be 
evident also that there was no systematic learning from the past 
as information accumulated. 

In fact, since the numbers shown refer to estimates of the 
cumulative number of strategic vehicles in operation at future 
dates, and since the later predictions were based on much more 
extensive knowledge of what was already deployed or at least 
started in construction at the time of the prediction, the degree of 
bias can be made even plainer. There are several points. 








D <^ It 

of IJ 

of 14 

Oof 11 

Oof 51 

Oof 11 

1 of 15 

1 of 14 

of 11 

2 of 51 

2 Ot 11 

3 of IS 

2 of 14 

2 of It 

9 of 51 

Z«wer Predictions 





Mid-Range of 






Bigh Predictions 





Table 1 

1962-1971 U.S. Predictions that Exceed the Actual 

Soviet Strategic Deployment * 

Low Predictions that 
exceed Actual 

Mid-Range of Predictions 

that exceed Actual 
High Predielions that 

exceed Actual 

Table 2 

Average Ratios of Predicted-to-Aaual Cumulative Numbers • 
(Numbers in parentheses compare predicted to actual change) 

Sub-launched Heavy Medium 

ICBMs Misuleei Boiuben Bombers 

(11 Estimate) (15 Bsttmat^) (14 Estimates) (11 Estimates) 

wis cw 

Ml 0-77 

0-S8 0-87 

* Pradictloas eKclude short-teno estimates of ICBMj aui! sub-Uunchcd mteHes tbsl 
aiB limited essentially (o compleliDa of Uuncbtrs slreidy staled. 

First, our means of acquiring information improved greatly 
over the period. Second, in the later years a much larger pro- 
portion of the cumulative total in operation was already in 
operation at the time predictions were made. And third, we had 
information not only about the number of launchers completed 
and in operation (displayed in the rising curves of Soviet ICBM 
and SLBM launchers) but also about the substantial numbers of 
launchers that had been started but not completed at the time 
the prediction was made. We knew that ICBMs started would 
generally be completed, say, in about a year and a half, and 
submarine-based missile launchers in about two and a half years, 
but in any case well before the dates in our long-run predictions. 
In fact, estimates of the missile launchers already started that 
were expected to be completed by a given time were, at the 
midrange, only 3 percent below the actual number for ICBMs and 
2 percent above it for submarine-launched missiles. If we make a 
rough adjustment for this fact on the one hand and on the other 
allow for some delay in acquiring and processing information 
by the date predictions were made, if we assume generously a 
seven-month delay, the degree of understatement will be more 
apparent. In effect, what was being predicted was an increment in 


the force then in operation or under construction. It is appropriate 
to compare that increment with the actual amount newly started 
and completed in the ensuing interval. 

ICSU PndldkBa hb^ la HO 

i I I I I I I I t I I I 

ha dkila iM ie Ptpuv la-lb i 

ICBM Prcdielions Made in 1965 








pmJicled by ihe US 

Date piedklions 


/ ,''v5'~ 


1 ! \ L_ 

_! i 1 1 ; 1 i— J 













1 soo 


^ ^ 

/ ^f'"' 

Range of 

„ 600 

/ y 



Dale predictions 


by the US 

1 400 

1 '^^'-'"^ 

O 200 



1 1 

1 — 1 — \ — 1 — 1 

1 1 1 

62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 
Calendar Year 


K7U rtwiH^aa UA !■ lUfi 



Figure Ig 
ICBM Piediction Made ii 

Figure th 
ICBM PredictioQ Made in 1969 

J LJ 1 1 1 L-J I I 1_J 

63 64 65 « 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 
Calendar Year 

S 400 - 
O" 200 - 

I I I I t I I I 1 I I 

62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 
Calendar Year 


IKS IS Leaa tdB mdlal« Ce«V<i<Dd b? khe Aduat hahtf ■ 

]9H US PrEd£Oai C^piMd to Ik A. 

1 » 

J. J I I i_ 

Burying Wrong Predictions in the Known Past 

Our longer-term predictions about the Soviet strategic triad 
were under the mark for 11 years. The long-term ICBM projections 
presented in Figures la-lh were made during the eight years 
from 1962 to 1969. (Later ones referred to dates well after SALT I 
numerical limits on missiles took effect.) Did these eight years of 
long-range ICBM predictions show systematic learning? 

It would not be surprising if they did, or even if, after 
eight years of trying, ICBM predictions finally touched reality. 
Programs do, in the end, level off; and the forecaster who year 
after year predicts they will, sooner or later, like a stopped watch, 
will be right. What is surprising is that these forecasts got worse, 
not better. 

Some analysts now grant that we underestimated, but 
claim that we improved with time.^" They ignore the important 
difference between predicting a cumulative total of vehicles that 
will have been deployed at some future time, most of which 
are known to be already completed or in process at the time 
when the prediction is made, and predicting a change from this 
known state. This accurately-known past makes up an increasing 
portion of the cumulative total. Nonetheless, those who detect an 
improvement in forecasts compare predicted with actual totals, 
not predicted with actual change from what was known; and so 
swamp unpredicted new starts in the steadily increasing total of 
launchers known to be started or completed. 


Suppose every year a forecaster regularly predicted that 
during the next 12 months an adversary was going to add 10 more 
missile launchers; and every year, without fail, the adversary 
added 100. At the end of 10 years, the adversary would have 
built up a force of 1,000 launchers. But in the beginning of the 
tenth year, with 900 in place, the forecaster, undaunted, might 
predict, once more, that in the next period the adversary would 
build only 10 more, so reaching a cumulative total of 910. If one 
used Nacht's ratio of the predicted-to-actual cumulative number 
deployed, it would appear that the forecaster's skill in prediction 
was steadily improving. In the first year the predicted-to-actual 
ratio was 10/100, in the second year 110/200 — and so on until the 
great success of the tenth year, when the predicted-to-actual ratio 
would be 910/1,000. A success ratio of 0.91 seems a marvelous 
improvement over 0.10. However, year after year he would have 
been undershooting reality in the same way. The difference between 
the predicted and actual cumulative numbers would have been the 
same — namely 90 — and the ratio of predicted-to-actual increments 
would have continued to be one-tenth. The forecaster would have 
learned nothing about how better to anticipate the future. The 
cumulative ratios, as in Figure 4a, miss this essential point. 

Ratln of rtidicud u> Acutl Oumiliiivt Toub d Sarin [CBM 
Silai {BuTYifLf Uu Futuze Jo llic Known PBd) * 

I'Z - 

-m - 


J L. 

J i 

CUendAT year who] pndktten w>3 msdo 


Moving from hypothetical to actual history, if we exercise a 
little care, it is easy to see that our long-run predictions of net 
future change were getting no better, that if anything they were 
worsening. The most direct way to establish that fact is suggested 
by our hypothetical example, where the difference between 
prediction and reality remains constant while the cumulative 
ratios suggest an apparent improvement. 

Figure 4a^^ presents a scatter diagram that buries errors about 
the future in statements that are mostly about the known past. It 
shows ratios of predicted-to-actual cumulative totals of finished 
silos. The Secretaries made these long-term predictions during 
the eight-year period 1962 to 1969. All refer to dates no later 
than mid-1972. Each dot represents one such cumulative ratio 
calculated at the mid-range of each prediction. In each of three of 
the years, the Secretaries made two lon